Right off the bat, I’m going to admit something. Something that as an engaged and socially conscious member of society, and as a graduate in the subject of Politics, sits uncomfortably with me.
Up until a couple of days ago I wasn’t going to vote in these elections.
I know — I know. It’s disgraceful, but to be honest I’ve become a bit jaded with the whole political system, and frankly I see myself making larger changes to the world in other ways. Ways that carry far more weight than ticking a box and watching my vote get swallowed up and lose its meaning.
The irony of this is that, as a Politics student, my undergraduate dissertation was on the subject of political apathy in young people.
In defence of my old opinion, though, there are a number of apparently good reasons why me not voting isn’t the end of the world. No doubt in the last few weeks, and today in particular, you’ll have seen a whole slew of things trying to convince you to exercise your right to vote. The thing is though, some of these I find really annoying.
For example, the theory that I have to vote, because there are others who don’t have the right, or because people have fought and/or campaigned for our right to democracy. This vein of argument I find odd. Some of this is because what has been defended isn’t my right to vote, but rather my right to choose to vote. It’s a tiny distinction, but an important one I feel.
The other reason is that I would argue that sending someone with limited knowledge to the polling station, just because they have been guilt tripped into it, is just as damaging as them not going at all. What are they basing their decision on? Does that not hurt the ‘point’ of democracy moreso than apathy?
The thing is though, exceptional though those points are, when I get off work today I’m still going to head to the polling station and tick a box. Why? Several reasons, some of which I will list here.
So I made a big fuss about ‘just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to’ — and I stand by that. But my counter-argument is that, without wishing to sound all doomsday about it, I’m governed by so many things out of my control. Whether at work, in my social life, in my personal life, with family, or aspects of my volunteering, there are things over which I have no choice or say. Small an action though it might seem, casting a vote is one thing that I never normally get to do.
It is true that democracy, such that it is in this form, is not something that many people round the world have — but if that isn’t enough to motivate you then think about the fact that democracy isn’t even something you have in every aspect of your own life.
This isn’t a General Election, with its stupid Quidditch-style First Past The Post system. Your vote isn’t representative of 0.02 percent of the potential change it can have, even if you’re in a ‘safe seat’. These elections use a form of proportional representation (hint: a good thing), so no more excuses of ‘well I support the Green Party, but they’ll never get in so what’s the point’.
This goes beyond my reasoning a couple of years ago for the General Election and voting for the LibDems (the old ‘well of course they don’t have a chance if everyone says they don’t have a chance’ chestnut). It really doesn’t need a landslide in a given direction for chance to happen.
Gone are the days where, in order to make an informed decision, you’d have to take hours out of your day to pour over manifestos and ponder the delicate intricacies of the world. In this need-everything-yesterday, GenY world, there are countless quizzes you can take that help guide your decision. The VoteMatch website is my personal favourite, but even Buzzfeed are in on the act.
I should be really cynical about this. The right to vote is a sacred thing and, as such, should be treated with respect — people should ‘earn’ the right to vote by putting in the hours to show they care.
Equally though, if you’re clever about how you use it, I think this is acceptable. That is what I like about VoteMatch; it asks you 30 questions on policy, then asks you to rate which policy areas are most important to you, then gives you a breakdown of the parties ranked by who you tend to agree with most. Crucially, it gives reasons for (most of) the answers to various things. This last bit is key, as it lets you think about and rationalise various choices.
I would never advocate using the quiz to decide your vote for you, but if you’re just looking to find out who agrees with you on policy issues I think its a very useful tool.
So there you are. I’m a convert who’s been converted back. If you think that any of these points resonate with you, then please consider heading to your polling station this evening. They are open until 10pm, so there’s still time. If you want.