How to Vote
Mar. 9th, 2013 @ 12:34 am
As we have an election tomorrow here…
I'm tired of the same 'how can you possibly vote for Gillard/Obama/flawed mainstream not-that-progressive party' arguments that I see again and again from passionate political friends (or the alternative 'why vote at all you are just supporting the evil system'). Many of you reading probably understand all this fine, but I feel the need to rant, so indulge me.
How to vote:
Understand that choosing the lesser evil of two evils is usually fundamental to voting. Not evil at all is seldom on the menu. And once it has got to the ballot stage, there probably isn't much you can do about it.
If you live in in a jurisdiction that has preferential, or optional preferential, voting (e.g. Australia) you should vote for the parties in order of preference, putting the ones you like the most at the top. But you should realistically assess which parties actually have a significant chance of winning, and the order you number those parties in probably makes more difference than anything else about your vote, so consider it carefully, even though you may dislike them all. .
If you live in a jurisdiction that has first past the post voting (e.g. US, UK, etc) you have my condolences for your poorly designed democracy. You should probably ignore the parties that you like, but that have no chance of winning at all. You should probably choose which among the parties that have a realistic chance of winning you hate the least, and vote for them.
And here is the important part, the crucial part. Realise that voting is about 1 hour, very roughly 1 day in a 1000 (may be up to roughly 1 in 1500). So, voting takes up very roughly about 0.01% of your time. And voting is a pretty effective form of political activity in terms of how to spend those few minutes every few years. If you are disappointed in having to choose between evil and eviler on the ballot, or annoyed that the act of voting gives you a very limited amount of engagement with the political system, recognise that you are free to engage with the political system in other ways in the remaining 99.99% of so of your life.
You can join a lobby group!. You can start a lobby group, or a campaign! You can join a political party, and campaign within it for better policies and better representatives! Write about issues in social media! Talk to people!
Addenum: If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has a voting system like Hare-Clark or other such sophisticated alternative, you are probably going to have to research individual candidates in some detail, and it is particularly worth your time to look at major party candidates that are not getting a huge amount of promotion from their party. And if you are voting in a multiple position/multiple candidate election (e.g. the Australian Senate or most Upper Houses) you should definitely put some thought into voting for relatively minor parties, because the preference system often throws up something unexpected for the last position on the ballot (e/g/ the DLP in the 21st century), and very few of the parties can be trusted to make sensible decisions. So it is worth having some idea who all those minor guys way down on the ballot are. Hope you enjoy it!
Good rant, even if you are preaching to the choir in my case.Edited at 2013-03-08 05:04 pm (UTC)
I just wish that the Press ever made some attempt to summarize the views of the minor parties. I shouldn't have to spend quite so much time googling.
Excellent rant Dave - people who complain about having to vote or who do want to engage in the political system at all need to live somewhere where they do not have the right to vote or are completely powerless to change their country's policies etc
I'm sure you've heard our favourite story about being on the booths on election day, and the guy handing out how to votes for the Libs was a recent migrant from Myanmar, and kept being so happy about how we were all supporting different political parties, but no one had threatened or attacked him, every was so polite, no official corruption etc. Living in a functional democracy is awesome!
I mean, sure, I wish we had a better political culture - but no violence, dependable election bureaucracy not corrupted by political interference, rule of law! Yay!
Yes, good rant. I'm rather persistently annoyed by this sort of thing: the constant "splitting to the left"(*) in (the Republic of) Ireland, notwithstanding that no sort of remotely left-ish party or grouping has ever achieved a plurality here, much less an electoral majority. Yes, I think their policies pretty milquetoast and half-hearted too, but can we please try to walk before we run, here? Or rather, walk before we fall flat on our faces and have another ninety uninterrupted and essentially undifferentiated years of centre-right economics and the worst forms of cheesy ethno-nationalism? No? Oh well...
((*) I'm for convenience here including Sinn Fein in the "left" concept, albeit "semi-reformed extrapolitical irredentist ultra-nationalist xenophobes with some populist 'oppose everything' policies sprinkled on top" would be my own personal characterisation.)
Also springing immediately to mind is the snitty reaction to Obama's re-election from the likes of Neil Gaiman and his infamous "now go do a bunch of stuff you didn't run on doing, or that we've failed to elect the Congress that would allow you to do" snarcratulatory tweet. (Yes, I've complained abput that one before, but it's such a "fine" example of the genre that I struggle to see past it. "Entitlement issues", indeed...)
If one is dissatisfied and disillusioned by not having one's full will of the rest of the populace without having bothered to convince at least 50%+1 of them to agree with one in the broadest terms, one really isn't fully on board with the whole "democracy" concept at a pretty fundamental level. (I suppose the right is at least as guilty of that as the left, but traditionally are "better" at expressing it, rather than disengagement and counterproductive fracturing, in more "productive" avenues like populist trolling of the electorate (pretty much all of them), fiddling the voting system (looking at you, GOP and UK Tories), and of course the perennial favourite, political violence (hi again, SF!).)
I'm not sure I entirely understand your point about assessing preferences in the light of a "significant chance of winning". I might be missing subtleties or oddities about the Australian system(s), but I understood that it uses AV/instant runoff/single-member STV for most purposes, with assorted bells and whistles like compulsory voting (grand) and compulsory total ordering of candidates (bizarre and pointless). (Are some of your elections multi-member STV, too?) I don't think there's any systematic basis for an insincere preference/tactical vote in such a system, Arrow’s impossibility theorem notwithstanding. Vote for your actual choice in order of desirability, but (in the "optional" (i.e. "normal") version of AV/IR/SMSTV), do at least hold your nose and continue your preference until you're genuinely equally unconcerned or despairing which of the remainder might get in (or confident they're unelectable anyway). Some people here (MMSTV) seem to think they've done their democratic duty after their "number one", or a number of preferences equal to the number of seats, or until they no longer have a "positive" preference, which seems to me to be odd. Getting to the polling place is generally the lion's share of the effort, rather than troubling to write down a few more small positive integers!
I can scarcely sufficiently express my venom for FPTP. The US version, as bankrupt and antidemocratic as it might be, almost makes sense compared to the UK, given its tradition of a barely-there party system of pre-electoral coalition. I think deep down even Gerry Adams and Neil Gaiman would probably realize that getting 36.1% of the votes cast is not a mandate for unchecked electoral dictatorship, but British Conservatives seem actually bewildered on this point, and quite unselfconscious when they propose "reform" to make themselves, being the "natural party of government", still more favoured by the systematic biases of the system. I hope they reap the electoral whirlwind of their shenanigans on AV and constituency gerrymandering, and leak enough votes to UKIP that both implode under the weight of their own Daily-Mail-addled preposterousness.