Putting your money where your mouth is: Vote, damnit!

drawing of a ballot box
I’m never sure why people don’t bother voting. I get that many people are apathetic, many people figure that politicians are all the same, many people think that it’s not going to make a difference. That all you do when you vote is bolster up the current system.

I get why people think those things. I understand that my vote is only one among millions, and I understand that by voting I am cooperating with a fundamentally imperfect and broken system. But, you know what? I’d rather have a somewhat broken system than one that’s completely shattered.

The pursuit of perfection is a wonderful thing. It really is. It’s a wonderful thing, until the moment that the pursuit of perfection gets in the way of pursuing the slightly better imperfections that might let us get by. The bandages and stitches that might just let us limp along in a way that doesn’t screw us up too badly. Sure, it’s a let-down. Sure, it’s not perfect and it never will be. There’ll always be fundamental problems with our current system.

But right now, the question isn’t whether you would rather our current system or one which is completely different. The question is whether you would rather let our current system to continue recklessly careening downhill without even the minor checks which we allow it, or whether you can be bothered to help steer it in a slightly different direction which we might just be able to live with.

It’s not pretty. It’s not nice. It’s not a satisfying choice. But it’s the choice we’ve got, it’s the small thing that we can do. And if you don’t do it, you waive absolutely your right to claim innocence for anything the government does for the next half-decade.

Putting your money where your mouth is: Vote, damnit!

12 thoughts on “Putting your money where your mouth is: Vote, damnit!

  1. Cas

    I can’t speak for Ireland, but in England, I spoil my ballot. It’s a deliberate choice which has nothing to do with not being bothered. I do claim innocence for the awful things the UK government is doing, because I have no way to stop them. That said, through direct action and grassroots work, I’m doing my best.

    I’m not interested in voting for any of the political parties in the UK for the same reason that I wouldn’t be interested in selecting which member of a firing squad gets a cookie before they shoot me. I’m actively disinterested in voting for any of the political parties which might win because they’ll then do the awful things they were already planning to do and claim one tiny bit more justification for doing them.

    I don’t really want to debate this in much detail, I just wanted to note a different point of view and say that I found your last sentence especially hurtful.

  2. 2

    Cas I so strongly disagree with you on this. Spoiling your ballot in that way is frankly childish and makes a mockery of what women went through in the early part of the last century in order to get the right to vote at all.

    If you truly don’t like anyone just don’t vote. If you have to show your face at the polls find an independent that you can get behind and vote for them. Elections are never about electing a bight shining new perfect future. They are and always have been about choosing between the lesser of evils. It’s after the election that a nations citizens have a duty to keep the pressure on their representatives to be honest, honorable and worthy of their positions.

    As for the last sentence being hurtful I’m sorry but I totally agree with the poster on this point. If you’re not going to make use of your right to vote you have no business complaining about what happens later. By abstaining from voting or as you do spoiling your vote is not standing against anything. In fact it is silently supporting it. A vote not counted is a voice unheard and silence in politics is the same as agreement. For evidence of this read any book on the last hundred years of European history.

    1. 2.1

      I don’t know that I would characterize Cas’s position as childish – it is well considered – but I would see it as terribly naive.

      Neither the electoral system of the UK or Ireland lends any weight to the spoiled vote, they merely count it. And the vast majority of people will see a spoiled vote as either someone who is just angry at everything or too stupid to put the ‘X’ in a box (even if that’s not true).

      If you spoil your vote is has as much weight as not voting. And not voting is saying that you agree with the outcome whatever it is.

      The world will change if you vote properly – maybe not at the pace you would wish, but if you vote for the lesser of two evils then that is recognized. I imagine that Cas leans to the left (apologies for any presumption) – but the main reason we live in a right of centre state is that all those people who are out marching and demanding that they are heard and that someone does something about their appalling working class condition is that, as every study shows, working class people do not vote. And if instead of complaining about how rich bankers are taking their last cent from them, they actually got off their self-righteous arses on Friday, then they could effect real change.

      So what if there isn’t an exact match to your political manifest. It’s arrogant to assume that there would be. Vote for whoever is closest. Everyone knows that that LibDems supports PR based election – vote for them, then when they get it, you vote will at least count.

      The change in society you desire is not going to happen overnight, and to say that if you say that you won’t play the game unless you get all the sweeties now is childish.

      If there is such as thing as “the man” – then he is truly delighted that you spoil your vote, it means that things remain the same. It doesn’t matter if you draw a rainbow or discover the meaning of life, if you write it on your ballot paper it counts for nothing. At best you will make one person, the vote counter, think about your point of view but for the most part they don’t really care – they’re just too busy to notice.

      I’m glad you’re an activist and all – that’s democracy in action – I love it. But if you don’t vote, that’s like a football player giving 110% in all his training sessions and then just not showing up for the match.

  3. Cas

    Amanda, I’m not sure where you get the idea from that I’m “silent in politics” or that I don’t do anything to “keep the pressure” on politicians, as my comment directly contradicts that. I simply don’t do it by voting for a different bastard other than the one I want to pressure.

    Spoiling the ballot doesn’t make a mockery of women’s suffrage. Women won the right to vote, not the duty. (Although, as it happens, the transphobic government currently misgenders me as male, so I’d have had the vote regardless. I only note that as I don’t want to appropriate feminist struggles.)

    Spoiling the ballot also isn’t childish. My ballot read, in large, rainbow letters, “Not In My Name”, and every representative had to read it to confirm that it was spoiled. What did your ballot say? Many of my friends, in their effort to vote for the least of evils, voted in the Liberal Democrat representatives that now, in the ConDem coalition, are pushing through a vicious series of public sector cuts.

    Their ballots may have had an “X” in the Lib Dem box, but what they said was, “I <3 Neoliberals" – as anyone who was aware of the Orange Book manifesto before the election already knew.

    The other thing that most ballots say is, "I support representative democracy". Mine didn't say that. Because I don't. Would you like me to lie?

  4. Cas

    Oh, bleh. Sorry. I said I didn’t want to debate stuff and then I did. I actually don’t like debating stuff online like this and think it’s a waste of time for everyone involved, and generates bad feeling.

    I’m sure both of you are acting in good faith and have thought about where you stand. I don’t agree with you, but cut me the same slack, ‘k?

    1. 4.1

      Hi Cas,

      I seem to be a bit late to this party- sorry about that! To be honest, I really do see your point, even if it is different from my own view. I think that both of us- all of us, including Amanda- are coming from the perspective that the current political system is an extremely broken and flawed thing. The differences are just in how we react to that.

      With regards to the last sentence of my post.. gah, that is difficult. The first thing that I’d like to say is that it’s not people like you- people who are politically engaged through things like direct action and grassroots work- who my post is aimed at. I’m mainly annoyed at people who don’t do that or vote, and who then complain about the system. If you ain’t doing anything to fix it, you don’t have a right to complain. Know what I mean?

      And now for the harder bit, which is working out an opinion regarding spoiling votes. To be honest, I think that this may be an easier thing in places like the UK with your first-past-the-post voting system. If I was in the UK and knew my candidate(s) hadn’t a hope in hell of getting elected, I can see how spoiling a vote would be an attractive and reasonable option.

      I don’t think it’s the same in Ireland. Having a single transferable vote means that I can vote genuinely according to my preferences. In my case that generally means that my number one preference goes to the person who I really want to get in, and who generally hasn’t a hope. No matter, my vote will still be counted going for them. And then my second and third preferences go to the lesser evils. Not giving any preference to anyone beyond that is a very pointed way of saying that there is no way in hell that I’ll legitimise them. Also, if the lesser evils get in on my second (or third, or fourth) preferences, that will be known.

      So PR-STV gives me an opportunity to actually give a first preference to my actual first preferences, as well as giving a very pointed message to the people I will tolerate that toleration and second-best is all they’re getting. In a situation like this, I honestly can’t countenance anything but actually putting down some preferences in the vast majority of cases. Somewhere with first-past-the-post voting is a completely different system. Not having lived under that system, I don’t have the right to judge a person’s actions under it.

      However, I do think that making some visible or audible statement is important. The way that you protest by visibly spoiling your votes in a way that legally has to be noticed? Sounds like a good solution to the impossible situation of being in a first-past-the-post system where neither of the top candidates are people who you could countenance voting for. The fact that you do it in such a way that makes absolutely clear your intentions? Is something I can get behind.

      What I can’t get behind is people who do nothing political at all, while being very unhappy with the situation. Or people who would not vote in a situation that actually allows for genuine preferential voting.

      1. Cas

        The first thing that I’d like to say is that it’s not people like you- people who are politically engaged through things like direct action and grassroots work- who my post is aimed at.

        Thanks for clarifying this. πŸ™‚

        What I can’t get behind is people who do nothing political at all, while being very unhappy with the situation. Or people who would not vote in a situation that actually allows for genuine preferential voting.

        Mm. I think that there are lots of people negatively affected by state oppression who also don’t choose to vote. An oppressed person who correctly (IMO) recognises that any party they vote for will still attack them, and also doesn’t have the privilege of perusing direct action, shouldn’t be told that they waive their right to claim innocence for state oppression. They are innocent of it. It’s the damn state’s fault and they have no way to stop the state from doing it.

        So I think there are several reasons why the, “If you don’t vote, you’re part of the problem,” sentiment runs into problems, and I think most of them are to do with presuming that everyone wants to pursue, or even has access to, a certain kind of politics which is kinda white, kinda liberal, kinda middle class in its character.

        I prefer statements like, “Privileged people who don’t take responsibility for the oppressive power exercised on their behalf by their state, which benefits them (most of us benefit from cheap labour, for example), look kinda hypocritical when they complain if the state also harms them.”

        I prefer that kind of statement because it points in a few more possible directions to fix the problem besides “vote damnit!” and stays relevant for those people who consider other ways of fixing the problem to be more effective, or who are completely disenfranchised.

        I’m not sure how I’d feel if there was a more representative voting system. I think that I would still find it very difficult to to vote for any of the parties. I really do hate them all. Maybe there would be different parties, or existing parties would take different positions, under a different voting system. I’m doubtful but I don’t really know enough to predict it.

        Are there any parties in Ireland running on really solid anti-capitalist platforms, the kind of thing I might be able to get behind?

    2. 4.2

      Oh, also:

      I’m interested in why you don’t like to debate things with people? Mainly because I dislike debate myself, and I wonder if your reasons are similar to or different than mine. I find debate to be highly oppositional, where the focus is mostly on getting one’s own point across above all else. Where you are listening to others it’s only to find new points to argue. I find it all a bit tiresome, and tend to prefer conversations based more on understanding the perspective of the other, seeing where their justifications are for what they do or think. That way, even if I do end up wanting to convince people otherwise, it’s coming from a place of respect for them as a person at the very least.
      But that’s just me. I’d be interested in your reasoning?

      1. Crap that reminds me of an hour long semi-argument you and I had in my kitchen about abortions rights. Fun but frustrating but still lots of fun.

        Cas I will apologise for being confrontational but I am a pretty hardcore democrat (not the US party but a firm supporter of the concept) and I don’t see voting as merely a right I believe it is a civic duty.

        But different strokes for different folks. Come to Ireland and I’ll buy you something sickly sweet with fruit and umbrellas in it and we can find a middle ground. πŸ˜‰

        1. Cas

          Come to Ireland and I’ll buy you something sickly sweet with fruit and umbrellas in it and we can find a middle ground.

          Oh, god, I love sickly things and especially with umbrellas. This is pretty much one of my biggest weaknesses and is probably the best way to reach consensus with me ever. πŸ˜€

          It’s a deal!

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