Thoughts on Elections

We had our 4-yearly elections today and in the run-up to them I’ve had some interesting discussions with people over the merits of Voting, Not Voting, Spoiling ballots, etc.

For those not “in the know”, we have a few major parties here: ANC, DA, IFP, EFF,

Let me start with the “Not voting” camp because that’s probably the easiest one to talk about.  The best argument I’ve heard against voting is along the lines of how the system of democracy is broken and won’t work and hence why should we take part in something we know is broken.  The downside of that argument comes when I ask the question “so what are you doing to change the system?”.  The average response is “not voting” or “nothing I do will make a difference”.  Both of those are basically defeatist, and a weak way out.  If I see someone complaining about something, but not prepared to do anything to change it, my respect for them decreases.  If you don’t have the drive to try and change something that’s not working right, you can’t blame how broken that thing is on someone else.

Previously I would have stated it as Matt, a friend of mine, did on Facebook:

Remember, your purple dot is your license to complain. No dot? Let’s not hear you moan until 2019 please.

It works, but is just not a great wording of the problem.  It caused an uproar with someone who believed my friend was advocating that we should not have free speech (totally missing the spirit of what Matt was saying).

My newly formed opinion is this:

I will find it hard to respect someone who complains about the state of the country, but does nothing to alter it for the better. (Whether that is just by voting, or by doing something to bring about positive change)

On a base level for me, I take care over how my salary gets invested – Is the money being used efficiently? Will I get reasonable returns? etc. So why do I not care about how efficiently my tax money is being spent, and why do I not do what I can to ensure that it’s spent wisely, that the government won’t continue to increase tax rates unrealistically, that the property I own will grow in value and not become an item of “redistribution”?  I believe that a rational person should do something to take care of that both in the short and the long term.

If I thought that “voting is agreeing with a broken system”, I would do two things:

  1. Think of the long term – start mobilising friends, family, and like-minded thinkers to find ways to create a lasting change to the system.
  2. Thing of the short term – I cannot make it change over night, so how do I spend my little influence (my vote) wisely to ensure that my interests are looked after by the best of the broken system?

To me that’s not “giving in to the man”, that’s simply a prudent course of action given the circumstances.

On the topic of “Spoiling ballots” – your spoiled ballot only has 1/2 the impact that an active vote has. Spoiling a ballot simply dilutes the mix of votes, reducing everyone’s over-all proportion of “yes votes”.  While a vote for any party other than Party X, is both diluting Party X’s proportion, but actively increasing the proportion of the other party.  The only time I would consider spoiling a ballot would be where I can find no party who I believe would be a better choice than the current ruling party.  It’s not a great option because it lacks a lot of the “power” of an active vote for “change”, but sometimes it’s the only option you have. 

If I look at items I care about like Education, Health Care, and Jobs/Employment – I still think that there are many parties who’s policies I agree with. So I don’t see spoiling a ballot as a reasonable option for me currently.

Then on to the simplest strategy: “Voting”. It looks like it should be so simple, but even here there’s the pressure of, as Helen Zille stated recently in a speech, “A vote for any other party is a wasted vote”.  I’m not a fan of the idea that any vote is wasted – if I really and truly believe that the “KISS” party was the only one with the right plan for the country… Even if voting for them does not give them enough votes for a seat in parliament, it does do two important things:

  1. It’s a vote that’s not going to a party you don’t believe in
  2. Your chosen party can see a growth in support and hopefully will be more motivated for the next elections. (Possibly you might also consider helping them spread their ideals, to improve their results next time)

So for me, no vote is “wasted” and by suggesting that a vote can be “wasted” puts unnecessary pressure on people and highlights either that the system is flawed or that the person saying it is not being practical.

There’s a whole “first past the post” vs “alternative vote” debate, which would allow those “minority” votes to have far greater say but even without that in place a “minority” vote still has plenty of merit. 

I haven’t done all the reading up (I think SA has some odd way of calculating “seats in parliament), but if it’s as simple as us having 400 seats in parliament, so to get a single seat you need 1/400, or 0.25% of the national vote.  Lets look at the implications of this 0.25% restriction:

  • We had 33 or 29 parties on our ballot today (depending on which list I manage to find). Lets use the bigger number (33)
  • Lets assume only 2 Parties who get all the votes, and everyone else gets less than 0.25% of the vote
  • That means we have 31 parties getting less than 0.25%, and 2 parties splitting the rest.
  • In reality just about 45% of the parties from the last election got less than 0.07%
  • So lets assume that 15 parties got 0.1, 16 parties got 0.24999%, and the rest was split across the top 2 parties.
  • That works out to 5.5% of the national vote that’s gone to parties who won’t get a seat in parliament, and 94.5% of the vote going to parties who will get a seat.

Even in a fairly “worst case” scenario, we have pretty much every vote counting for a seat in parliament.  In the last elections those “no seat” parties counted for 0.77% of the vote.  That’s hardly anything. 

The counter to that is that if the 0.77% had ALL gone to the ANC’s vote that would have pushed them into a 2/3 majority and they could have just outvoted every other party on any decision.  But that’s just scare-mongering, and in reality the fact that the 0.77% didn’t go to the ANC just proves that every vote counts – no matter how small that % change is, it could have a BIG impact.

In the end I’m all for “voting for anyone you believe will make a change for the better”, but I’d love it more if people were more actively involved in making a change to SA than a simple “X” mark every 4 years.

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