The Duty to vote

“Why bother to vote? I’m just one person, I won’t make a difference.”

Au contraire my friend. Imagine if every one of Warwick’s students shared such a view: over 15000 people without a voice.

In last year’s European and Local Elections, the turnout of Warwick’s on-campus students averaged out at just 16%. This from an institution which during the 60s and 70s was renowned for its politically aware and active student body!

To say that students country-wide are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics and politicians is a truism. However it seems unlikely that the solution to this downward spiral is abstention. As students we cannot rely on the remainder of the voting population to concern themselves with our wants and needs: such contentious policies as tuition fee rises and graduate job availability are specific to us as a demographic, and we are compelled to respond, whatever our point of view.

“Voting is one of the few things where boycotting in protest clearly makes the problem worse rather than better” – Jane Auer

At the ballot box there is no wrong answer: even a spoiled paper is better than none at all. These days postal and proxy voting make casting your vote easy, even if you cannot physically visit the polls.

The passing of generations may make it hard to relate, yet we are bound still to consider the sacrifices men and women alike made in this country in order to secure the rights we take for granted (and so often overlook) today.

Long queues of South Africans patiently waiting to vote for the first time after the collapse of apartheid, brave Zimbabweans visiting their polling stations under a constant and very real threat of violence. Just this week we hear about dozens of Iraqis killed on polling day by militants, yet still they queued to cast their vote, encouraged by their Prime Minister to improve democracy by participating. Compared with unthinkable hardships as these, our excuses of apathy and indolence fall flat. Yet still Iraqis managed to achieve a better voter turnout, at 62%, than in the last UK General Election in 2005.

{{ quote Voting is one of the few things where boycotting in protest clearly makes the problem better rather than worse }}

Change starts at grassroots level, and there have been many instances of elections decided on a matter of a few votes, so your vote really can make a difference. (A dreadful cliché, but true nonetheless). With such a closely contested election almost upon us, and a very real chance of a hung parliament, there has never been a better time to exercise your right and start taking an active interest in politics.

In the words of American political activist Marian Wright Edelman: “People who don’t vote have no line of credit with people who are elected, and thus pose no threat to those who act against our interests”.

With the up-coming election looming we all have to make the decision whether to vote or not and who for. But what I want to examine is whether abstention is in our interests. Voter turnout has dropped significantly since 1992; in 2005 the turnout level was 61.4 per cent, but why?

Many people claim that they are not well informed enough to vote, some claim there isn’t a politician worth voting for, others that they don’t have time and some that they just don’t care. But all of these claims can either be remedied or you could argue are false. It is not surprising in post-expenses scandal Britain that the public may feel politicians aren’t worthy of their vote. However, it seems to me that the expenses scandal is a sign of the disconnect between the voter and the MP. The best way to keep politicians in check may well be to turnout in high numbers and to reassert that the British public does hold them to account. High turnout may well be the best remedy for complacency, as a more competitive election and fewer safe seats will force those who govern us, to respect us.

Many politicians, I am sure, are however, decent people. The expenses scandal has exposed those who weren’t, but many were also shown to have not been abusing the system – this, sadly, doesn’t make for a good headline though. Perhaps you disagree, but if you don’t want your MP to be re-elected then you should go and vote against them. Your vote is your way of passing judgement. In terms of the practicality of voting, well, for most people getting to a polling station is quite doable. For some it is much more difficult but in those cases a postal vote could be applied for. Furthermore, you only have to find the time to vote in a general election once every five years. If you don’t vote then you don’t have a say… As for those who say they don’t care, I highly doubt that, the state effects most people in some way nearly every day. It would be almost impossible to not have an opinion on health care, crime, terrorism, education, poverty, transport and a whole host of other areas. If you have an opinion then surely you should express it by using your vote.

If you still don’t wish to vote, then you should be content to be governed by who I and every other elector chooses. You may like it, you may hate it, but you ultimately did nothing to stop it or to at least promote what you wanted. Your vote may not count, but it also might be crucial. In the general election of 2005 the Warwick and Leamington seat was won by James Plaskitt MP by a margin of only 266 votes. So votes really can make a difference to the outcome of an election. Many people may say to you that voting is our civic duty, which many people have fought and died for, that many around the world have no vote so we should use our vote as an act of respect and because it has a value in itself. Well, all of this may be very true and I hope that people do feel a sense of civic duty; by casting a vote you’re helping to make democracy work. However, if this isn’t enough, then perhaps it’s just in your own interests.

You can vote for those who represent your interests most closely or for those whose policies you favour most. If you are unsure of who represents your interests most clearly, then perhaps you should visit [the Just Vote website]( and use that as a starting point for becoming informed.

The anarchist charge that “whoever you vote for, the government always gets in,” is perhaps bested by a quip from Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except of all those others that have been tried.” Democracy might not be perfect, our political system may be faulty, but it’s the best we’ve got and by exercising your vote you can choose a party to make changes to the electoral system or act on issues such as expenses. The anarchist claim goes further, however, to claim there is a symbiotic relationship between states and the capitalist market, that they perpetuate inequality and hierarchy. Whether you believe this to be the case or not, or whether you even feel that it is a problem depends upon your persuasion. However, especially in the wake of the financial crisis – who comes to power will have a big impact upon the people and the economy. The anarchists do have a point, the government does always get in, but it is largely regardless of whether you vote or not. So surely it’s better to have the kind of government you want than to have no input, even if you’re picking the least worst – it is still of some benefit to you.

There will be those that still choose not to vote, some from highly informed perspectives and this is fair enough. If you have considered the options and the consequences and don’t want to vote, then that is your right. However, if you feel our democracy is valuable but perhaps can’t affiliate with a party, maybe you should spoil your ballot card. Your vote is one of the few ways in which you can actively pass judgement over your MPs; is this a big enough incentive to vote? If you think that you should vote or that it’s important to do so, then here’s a message for you… Just Vote!


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