You shouldn't vote if:
  • All candidates suck. (See also:
  • You don't have the time/interest to learn about the issues and candidates.
  • You're planning on selecting a candidate to vote for based on one or two issues.
  • You're under-aged or not a citizen.
  • You don't agree with me on every issue. (Eric Harris said it best.)

    (IOW: If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything.)

    BTW, even if you don't vote, you have every right to complain. But we can complain about you not voting too. :-)

  • In the lead-up to the UK general election 2001, almost the entire UK mainstream media establishment, together with our politicians, have been routinely, dismissively, equating a lack of intention to vote with apathy. A lower-than-ever turnout is widely expected, with non-voting especially high amongst the young, so the question has come up a great deal.

    In reality, a large percentage of those not voting will refuse to vote not through apathy but because they are simply disillusioned with all of the main parties: Since Tony Blair enforced New Labour's massive lurch to the Right of the political spectrum, a huge political vacuum has opened up on the Left which has only partly been filled by the Liberal Democrats, leaving millions of people on the Left alienated and feeling like there is nobody worth voting for*. Most of those not voting would probably never even have considered voting for the Tories; those who would have largely been put off by the likes of William Hague and Ann Widdecombe.

    Having decided that none of the three main parties deserve their votes, most people will stop there because they know that Britain's First Past The Post system makes it incredibly unlikely that any party besides those three (and perhaps the occasional nationalist) will actually win any seats in Westminster. I disagree with this line of reasoning - voting for the smaller parties at least registers dissatisfaction in a way which it is hard to mistake for apathy, and may help them to keep their deposits - but the argument is there, and it's not entirely unreasonable.

    Needless to say, it's perfectly true that apathy is appallingly widespread in Britain, as in so many places; but from where I stand it looks to be at least as likely to be manifested in an ill-thought-out vote as it is to be reflected in no vote at all. The equating of non-voting with apathy is facile, misleading and rather offensive; its parrotting by so much of the media establishment demonstrates - dare I say it? - remarkable apathy on their part.

    Post-election note: The turnout was indeed much lower than any in recent history, around 59%; the last time it was this low was in 1918, when many of our troops still hadn't made it back from the war. In addition to the low turnout, smaller parties did much better than they usually do, although predictably none succeeded in actually winning any seats (however, a doctor from Kidderminster did win as an independent, and by a big margin - his main electoral platform was opposition to New Labour's so-called Public-Private Partnership policies in the National Health Service). The mainstream media has almost completely ignored this aspect of the election result. I maintain that there is every reason to believe that the incredibly low turnout had at least as much to do with antipathy as it had to do with apathy.

    UK general election 2005 note: Please bother to vote, or if you've actually found out about their policies and concluded that none of the parties represent your views, turn up, spoil your ballot paper, and campaign for a None of the Above box on ballots. As I've argued here, disengagement from the political process is understandable in a country with as little claim as this to the title 'democracy', but the only way anything is going to get changed is if people refuse to let themselves be disenfranchised, and engage in spite of the inadequacies of the system.

    Most of the issues I talked about back in 2001 are still just as big; add to that Blair's enthusiasm for the military promotion of US power, and there is a stronger case than there has been for a long time for British citizens to get involved with the way our country is run.

    Thank you.

    *Such people may be ignoring the existence of the Green Party and other smaller left-wing parties, or else dismissing them because our political systems allow them little opportunity for real power; or they may possibly have better reasons than that.

    If there is any country for which the term voter apathy rings true, it must be Australia - the country that invented the donkey vote.

    Australia's voting system has a number of unusual features. Firstly, voting is compulsory for all citizens in Commonwealth elections and most in State elections. Secondly, a preferential system of voting is used for most Lower Houses (including the House of Representatives) and a proportional system is used for most Upper Houses (including the Senate) and the Tasmanian Lower House. Both of these systems require voters to number the candidates in order of preference (the difference lies in the way the votes are counted).

    Since many people don't care which candidate wins but are forced to vote, they often number the candidates 1, 2, 3... straight down the ballot paper - the donkey vote! The names on the ballot paper used to be printed in alphabetical order, but this was changed when a Commonwealth Parliament was found to have a highly disproportionate number of members with surnames early in the alphabet, due to the donkey vote. Now the names are listed in a random order so that no one can change their name to manipulate their chances of being elected.

    I should point out that people are not technically required to vote as no one may attempt to ascertain what (if anything) they marked on their ballot paper. Rather they are required to attend a polling booth, where their names are marked off of a roll. However, people often think that they are required to vote in some fashion, hence the donkey vote tends to be more common than the blank vote.

    I could probably go on for pages just describing the peculiar way in which Australian governments are elected despite the general apathy of the populace but I'll leave that for another night.

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