In the majority of democratic countries around the world the proportion of the population that votes is generally declining as each election period comes and goes.
Does this signify that the population are content with the leadership they have and do not foresee the opposition mounting a challenge, or are they too lazy to vote?
Is it because they do not understand the political systems within their country sufficiently well to know how their vote is best cast, or perhaps they feel their single vote will not make a difference?
Do the younger generations in many ‘civilised’ countries not appreciate the sacrifices made by their forebears in fighting for the right to vote and in protecting that right through bloody conflicts?
Many of the above, and a whole host of other reasons, can be used to explain voter apathy but what are these non-voters missing out on anyway?
Those of us who consider ourselves fortunate to live in democratic countries consider the right to cast a vote for our leadership as a fundamental part of our political framework.
The question, though, is what does our vote achieve for us? Do we have a real choice in the way our countries are governed, or are we just furnished with certain token rights to prolong the illusion that we can actually have any kind of influence?
Is the entire election process just a scam, designed to give the average person a sense of comfort, to make them feel they are able to make a difference when in fact politics and policies will just carry on as they would regardless?
“You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on”. (George W Bush, 2001)
I wonder if the majority of people who decline their opportunity to vote do so, not out of apathy, but out of a realisation that the whole voting system is a waste of their time.
It can be argued that those who do not vote cannot have any complaints when the elected politician(s) implement policies with which they do not agree. Realistically, however, how much choice is available in the polling booth anyway?
In the UK there may be 3 main political parties and several much smaller ones but no election is likely to be seriously contested by more than 2 of those at this point in time. That is a situation is likely to remain true until the voting system is changed, something that neither of the 2 main parties would approve of as the current system suits them just fine.
In America the situation is fairly similar with a limited number of viable candidates running for President. I am fairly certain that you would find the same businesses and wealthy and influential individuals backing all the main candidates in elections on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, why only bet one way when you can bet on all outcomes and guarantee that you will win whatever happens?
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. (Lord Acton, 1887)
Taking the British electoral system as an example, simply because Britain is where I live, I can show that there are several ways in which elections can effectively be manipulated without the vast majority of the country having the slightest clue or even so much as batting an eyelid –
1. To win an election a candidate needs a simple majority, in other words they must poll more votes that any other candidate. Where there are many candidates the person elected could actually be voted against by 60% or more of the electorate. In today’s media mad society, only the candidates from the 2 main political parties tend to gain any meaningful amount of coverage. This means that not only do they have their party’s financial backing but also free advertising too. How can candidates from minor parties even contemplate winning against that kind of advantage?
2. The 2 main political parties in this country receive funding from big business and rich donors. Often these people and organisations will effectively be backing both the main contenders, thereby meaning that any choice between candidates is fairly insignificant. If you believe that people elected to positions of power with the aid of external influence do not remember their benefactors then you are, perhaps, naive.
3. Our ‘first past the post’ voting system effectively rules out the likelihood of any third political party ever gaining any meaningful level of influence within British politics.
4. Constituency boundaries are often redrawn, allegedly creating more ‘safe seats’ for the party currently in power. If you live in an area where one particular candidate is almost certain to win then voting against them achieves nothing.
5. Successive governments have worked hard to promote postal voting. Considering that the traditional method of voting in a balloting station is open to abuse, how much more likely is it that postal voting could be manipulated? When counting postal votes how do you even verify if the voter is living or dead without going through each and every form and checking it for authenticity?
6. Without publishing a comprehensive list of who everyone in the country chose to vote for, which in itself would have extreme consequences, how do you really know that the results have not been tampered with?
Whilst I wouldn’t possibly mention Cash For Honours as that was an unproven allegation, I would imagine that those who back the 2 main British political parties via donations and other means, receive a very good return on their investments in one way or another. This, it could be argued, is paid for by the ever increasing tax burden upon the working middle classes, whilst the unemployed will continue to receive just enough in social security to make them comfortable and willing voters for more of the same.
“You don’t tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive”. (Baroness Thatcher)
So, is our right to vote within a democracy something that defines the freedom that we have, or is it just a comforting scam, designed to make us think we have a choice, when in fact the truth is that such choice is no more than an illusion?
What do you think?