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To Vote or Not to Vote

New Zealand has a general election on 20 September, just a few days away. Most polls show the centre-right National Party is more likely to be able to form a government than the centre-left Labour Party, but results are close enough that they cannot be confident. So whichever block you want to win, it is vitally important that you vote.

I see voting as one of our most important responsibilities as citizens. I have little time for those who complain but don’t vote, and even less time if you also have the privilege of living in a country where the electoral system is fair and the vote count is reliable. At New Zealand’s last general election in 2011, we had the lowest turnout since 1887 at only 74.2%. If you’re American, you probably think that’s a good result given that even in presidential elections it’s been nearly 50 years since you’ve managed even a 50% turnout. However, the New Zealand electorate is usually fairly engaged and turnouts of more than 90% are common although voting is not compulsory.

People always have an excuse for why they didn’t vote, and those excuses are at least invalid and often simply pathetic.

10 Reasons People Give For Not Voting
1. It doesn’t affect me
If you believe this, the rest of us are probably better off without your vote. Either your judgment is flawed, or you’re just plain stupid, so whoever you choose to vote for is likely a bad choice. The beauty of a democracy though, is everyone’s vote is equal, even yours, and whatever the result, it DOES affect you.

2. My vote won’t make a difference to the result
This is a line heard in electorates that are usually safe seats for a particular political party or politician from people who are too lazy to make the effort. If everyone thought this way, no votes would ever be cast in those areas. But it’s important to register your preference, whether it’s for the likely winner or one of their opponents. The size of the majority matters to the way the winner exercises their mandate. If you oppose the likely winner, the voices of those who share your opinion are more likely to be listened to because of the bigger the size of the minority. It also encourages that minority to be more outspoken and more active if they’re aware others share their opinions. If, it’s the likely winner you support, that kind of arrogant complacency will lose you the election before you can say antidisestablishmentarianism.

3. I can’t be bothered
How many of us, when we were kids, were told about the children who were starving when we wouldn’t eat our dinner?  I’m sure my siblings and I aren’t the only ones with tales of running battles over peas gone cold! Some of my cousins won by “accidentally” spilling their peas on the floor, but our mother was wise to such tactics. We strongly suspected such accidents wouldn’t have the desired result – we were worried we might have to eat peas off the floor. You can see where I’m going with this. Many countries still don’t have free and fair elections (including several who insist they do), and women still can’t vote in Saudi Arabia. Those of us who live in western democracies with trustworthy electoral systems have a responsibility to use them not only to ourselves and our fellow citizens, but to those who don’t have the same rights.

4. I’m not voting as a protest
This is just a crock, and you know it. Unless you are in a country with enforced compulsory voting, the chances are that you actually can’t be bothered but you’re trying to make your laziness sound virtuous.

5. I don’t know who/which party to vote for, or I don’t like any of the candidates/parties
Again, no excuse. There’s plenty of information out there. If you feel none of them are worthy of your vote, go into the voting booth and spoil your ballot paper in some way. At least then you’ve made an effort. Simply not voting doesn’t make any point.

6. I’m not registered on the electoral roll
It’s not too late. If you don’t know how, go to www.elections.org.nz (or the equivalent for your country). You can enrol on election day and do a special vote too, just make sure you take along some identification.

7. The person I want to represent my country/electorate isn’t on the ballot paper
So write that person’s name onto your ballot paper. It won’t get that person elected but you’ve made your point and, more importantly, participated in the democratic process.

8. My cat/dog/goldfish could do a better job
What that really mean is you think you’d do a better job, so get involved somehow. Become a candidate or help someone you think has potential. In the meantime, cross all the candidates’ names off the ballot paper and write in your pet’s name.

9. I don’t vote because of my religion
I’m not sure it’s possible to reason with someone whose belief in an imaginary supernatural being takes over their mind to the extent they refuse to vote. Eschatological religions like the Jehovah’s Witnesses think it’s pointless to vote for something that’s about to be wiped out by the world ending. Others say no-one on earth can match up to God/Allah/Jesus etc. Basically, religions who won’t let their congregations vote are controlling them by enforcing a sense of separateness and superiority. There was a minor scandal in the 2005 election in New Zealand when the Exclusive Brethren Church sought to influence the election by various means and spent huge amounts to do so although they don’t vote. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disgusted by the hypocrisy of their actions. Those religious who don’t vote are telling the rest of us they think they’re better than us, but still wish to take advantage of a healthy democracy. It’s like the anti-vaxxers, who take advantage of herd immunity they won’t contribute to. If your mind has been so screwed up by a religion that controls your actions to the extent of telling you not to vote (or who to vote for), the rest of us are probably better off without your vote. However, you have a responsibility to your fellow citizens to exercise your right to vote and if your religion says otherwise, it’s time you asked your religious leaders a few pointed questions.

10. I can’t get to a voting place
This is the first potentially valid excuse, but can be overcome. If it’s simply a matter of getting to a polling place, there are people in every electorate who will pick you up and take you home. Usually they’re members of a particular political party, but they’re not allowed to ask you who you’re going to vote for, so don’t worry if you can only find someone from a party in opposition to the one you want to vote for. If you have other issues there is all sorts of assistance available, and too much to list here. However, if you’ve read this, you can manage to go to www.elections.org.nz, or the equivalent for your country, and find the help you need.

So, please make the effort to attend a polling place and make your voice heard. Voting has started – you don’t have to wait until 20 September to cast your vote. As the Electoral Commission says: “Your Voice, Your Choice – Have Your Say”.

2 Responses to “To Vote or Not to Vote”

  1. Jason says:

    Hi Heather, love the site, I’ve only just become aware of it via Jerry Coyne, great to see a Kiwi dealing with issues like Reza Aslan.

    I’m embarrassed to say this was the first NZ election where I did not vote. I left NZ a few years ago and only just qualify for enrolling. My only excuse is that the process from overseas this first time was horribly confusing. I tried getting clarification via email, but was pretty much dismissed. I enrolled via the internet, but despite providing my new address, they mailed the pack to my old NZ address. I should have been more proactive in getting it sorted.

    I agree with you that voting is an important responsibility and that we take for granted that NZ has a reliable system. I especially agree with you in having little time for complainers who do not vote. My usual response to the excuses you list is to argue that when you vote you are not only voting for who and what you want the next few years, you are also renewing your license to complain. For non-voters (like me unfortunately!) that license has lapsed!

    • Hi Jason. Thanks so much for your support. A few people I know have found voting from overseas difficult.

      To make my point, someone came to my home a couple of days about the election complaining about the result. I questioned her further and it turned out she hadn’t voted, so I had no sympathy for her pov whatsoever.

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