In mainstream discourse, the question of whether or not to actually vote is a contentious point, amongst adherents to all sorts of political ideologies – even for those who are apolitical. Some will vote, whilst others won’t, and the cycle continues. In spite of voting being a free choice, those who do not vote are often met with denigration and negativity. The question of why is one that needs to be answered, and from an anti-authoritarian perspective that’s a little different to what has been heard thus far.
The first point that should be addressed is why do people vote. Most of the time, it is due to an adherence to a given political party or the desire to keep a contingent of the parliamentary system from gaining control and power. The pendulum can swing either way when it comes to voting. It should be remembered, however, that parliamentarian options have a long history in Britain, so it is a way of life to which we are accustomed; once every five years, we elect a given representative that we feel could ‘govern best’, or one that loosely aligns with our perspective. Not only that, but external forces are able to rally people to vote for certain parties, should they be able to gather the resources and finance to do so (take, for example, the Trade Unions). Once people have voted, it is resting upon a hope for the best.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Is this statement true? At a first glance, it appears to be, however, if you scrutinise this idea, it cannot be. As a starting point, take the fact that voting is a choice – instead of an authoritative compulsion as in Australia – it stands to reason that those who do not vote have done so of their own free will. Of course, this does not save non-voters from criticism (in fact, a mutual discussion on the matter is healthy), but it does mean that they have done so in accordance with their own liberty – the only thing being broken is a sort of invisible consensus, one stating that we must vote, consigning otherwise legitimate opinions to the outside. The reasons for this can vary, but the common denominator is a lack of preference amongst the representatives.
What of those who choose not to vote? Well, this could be for any number of reasons, but usually these people aren’t heard; the debate degenerates into a shouting match, often with the non-voter losing. Take, for example, my experiences in college: I missed the opportunity to vote in the May general election by a week, but even if I could have voted, I would have abstained (included in abstention is the spoiling of the ballot). Once I’d said that, I couldn’t get another word in if I’d tried, as what followed were a series of altogether valueless insults thrown my way that put the lecturer and the students who voted upon a temporary pedestal by way of the fact that they’d patted themselves on the back without desiring to hear my full opinion on the matter. I fear that this is the case all too often with those who do not want to vote.
However, in abstaining, there is also a valuable opinion underpinning that choice. For me, it was the desire to stay away from legitimising governmental actions by merit of my vote. This does not mean that I want to see a privatised healthcare system (which could exist by way of prevailing consensus that we need one and thus contributions to the operation of one); what it does mean is that I did not want to put pressure on myself following a series of miscalculations by representatives and bureaucrats alike that, at best, result in wasted resources and, at worst, acts of oppression. Equally, it should be considered that those who have voted for the winning party must also bear at least a portion of the weight for that party’s actions. A vote every few years is all we’re allowed – the rest is decided behind closed doors, sometimes debated and other times not. To be in control of those mechanisms, the primary hurdle any party must face is gaining enough votes; once that bridge is crossed, they can burn it down for another few years. On the other hand, had I voted for an opposition party, my voice would not have been heard properly, except for perhaps a couple of instances wherein an MP would say something that I agree with. If the opposition party has won power, we’re back at square one. Quite simply, I did not (and still, to some extent, do not) feel that the government will provide a figurative and definitive resolution to economic and social issues. At best, it could alleviate some dynamics of poverty, but it will not resolve poverty completely.
There are ways other than the predisposed channels to speak up. Whatever your personal conviction and issue, there are alternative methods. A cross on a ballot paper simply cannot represent everything that you desire in life, and instead of relying upon generalisations admitted to the party platform, there are better ways to make voices heard that facilitate plurality and horizontal methods that genuinely combat social maladjustments such as poverty.