The Right not to Vote

Today in South Africa we are holding municipal elections. It’s a public holiday so that people can spend all day in queues, exercising their right to vote.

I’m at work, exercising my right not to vote.

Naturally, when i tell some voters that i have no intention to vote, their reaction is bizarrely similar to when i tell some religious people i’m an atheist. Their first reaction is to attack my position as if i am some sort of abberation, and convince me that i am obligated to vote. The fact that i don’t try to convince others not to vote (or not to be religious) seems lost on them. But then again people seem to think that the right to freedom of religion only counts for people who have a religion, and the right to voter freedom only counts for people who want to vote.

Well guess what, it doesn’t. Much like freedom of religion is there to protect both the religious and irreligous alike, the right to voter freedom is there to protect both those who wish to vote, and those who do not. Why someone does not want to vote is none of your business, just like why someone has made the religious choice they have is none of your business.

The standard argument from voters at this point will be ‘think of all the people who died and struggled just so you could have the right to vote’. Except all those people also died so that i could have the right not to vote. People don’t seem to understand that being forced to vote if you don’t want to, for whatever reason, is just another form of tyranny. Forcing me to vote when there is no candidate i feel is worth supporting, is infringing my rights. That is all part and parcel of the freedom that was struggled for. If you don’t like it, tough.

Of course, i wouldn’t be me if i just stopped at explaining why you have no right to tell me to vote. Naturally i have an opinion about why i’m not voting, and things would just be crazy if i wasn’t about to voice it. So here it is:

I don’t agree with democracy. Democracy gives the average person the ability to decide who will govern the country. The problem with that is the average person is stupid, selfish and gullible. They will vote for a party like they’re supporting a soccer team, regardless of how badly they perform. Their vote will not be educated, and it will not be for what they believe to be the good of the community as a whole. They will not seek to inform themselves of what each party stands for. In short, they will fuck it up.

What i would support is a meritocracy. All the same principles as democracy, only you have to earn the right to vote by doing something more than just reaching the age of majority. Anyone can earn the right to vote, you just have to apply yourself. Basic requirements would be things like a grade 12 education, attending voter education classes, and performing at least a few hours of community service of some kind. A criminal record of any kind will mean you cannot vote. Ever again.

The right to vote would be given to those who prove themselves capable of making an informed decision, and being a responsible citizen. And no, this is not reverting back to the days when you had to be a certain race or class to achieve the right to vote. Anyone from any background or race or religion should be capable of fulfilling the voter requirements by applying themselves and being socially responsible. If you cannot meet these basic requirements, you are either not motivated enough, in which case you don’t really want to vote anyway, or you are basically incapable of casting an education vote and so shouldn’t be allowed to.

Naturally, this is not going to happen anytime soon. So why don’t i just be satisfied with what we have now? Well, maybe if i lived in a country like the US, or the UK, or Australia, where democracy functions as it’s meant to, i would concede that point and vote. Except i live in South Africa, where there are majors issues with the way we practice so-called democracy. For one, we do not have a strong enough opposition to contest the ruling party in any meaningful way. We never will have a strong enough opposition, for the same reason that the ANC can do what it likes to its voters and will not lose – because people support their party because it’s their party. The non-ANC parties will vote for their team: the christians will vote for the ACDP; the Zulus will vote for the IFP; the communists will vote for the ACP; the Afrikaaners will vote for the FFPlus. And those that have neither religious, racist or cultural inclinations will still be split between the DA and ID. And even if by some miracle everyone puts aside race, religion and culture and even party loyalty, and all vote for one opposition party, ANY opposition party, ALL THOSE VOTES PUT TOGETHER ARE NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE AN IMPACT.

People say it’s not about beating the ANC, it’s about winning enough seats for one other party so we can have a strong opposition in parliament to keep the ANC honest. Except that the ANC command over two thirds of the vote. One third, even united, is not enough to keep the ANC honest. With a two thirds majority, they can still steamroller just about any decision, and even change the constitution as they like. So the numbers don’t add up.

But even if in just one city, like Cape Town, we manage to get an opposition party to win the election, it won’t be for long. Look at last year, where the DA succeeded in winning Cape Town. Before the term was even through, the ANC with its offers of ministerial posts and fat salaries got enough DA members to cross the floor that the ANC was effectively back in power. Now you go and ask all those people who went out and voted DA if that was what they voted for. They voted DA, the DA won, and the ANC still has more seats in the end and has their mayorial candidate in the seat of power? Is this democracy? No. Not in any way, shape or form.

So there you have it. I’m not going to vote until there’s a slot on that ballot that says ‘Vote of no confidence in the electoral process’, and someone is actually paying attention to how many people put their X next to it. Spoiling your ballot isn’t good enough, because there’s no way to tell on the spoiled ballots count how many were on purpose and how many were because they let the average idiot into that booth with a sharp pen and a dull wit.


14 Responses to “The Right not to Vote”

  1. A no vote is a legitimate choice. You want to protest against the system etc.(And yes, floor crossing is mind bogglingly stupid).

    But, you have also forfeited any right to bitch and moan about delievery of services, basic or complicated. Like, I don’t know…power?

    It’s similar to saying “Life is fair, so I’m going to kill myself.” It’s sad, but stupid.

    And I’m preaching, but I work in a industry of clever who people who are just too lazy to vote. It aggrevates.

  2. 1. Did you miss out on the bit where i explained you have no right to question my right not to vote? That includes calling my choice ‘sad, but stupid’. Lets try and avoid the personal attacks, okay?
    2. Exercising the right not to vote does not result in me forfeiting any right to ‘bitch and moan’ about the current government. I can protest as much as i like because i am protesting not only the government’s abuse of power, but also the process that put them in power. So in fact, by not having participated in, or supporting, that flawed process that resulted in incompetents running the country, i have even more right to bitch and moan than those who support it. It is the process itself that is flawed, so saying i could have changed everything by participating is irrelevant.
    3. My choice not to vote has nothing to do with laziness, as i have taken the time to point out. It is not necessary for you to vent your frustration with lazy people on me. I have my reasons, and part of the freedom that was fought for in this country allows me to have my reasons without you belittling them, or assuming that they are not at least as valid as your own.

  3. Note I didn’t call you lazy. Also note, I said that it was a choice you were absolutely allowed to make.

    And yes, you make may bitch and moan about all process, about the stupidity of political “unwritten rules” (the backhanding etc).

    What you shouldn’t bitch about is not being involved in the process, because had you been of age at the time, you would still have had no input, because you (appear to) have no want to take part in politics – the kissing babies side, at least.

    You can’t bitch about corrupt politicians (at least at local level) and or non-services delievery. Again, you didn’t vote, you chose not voice your opinion in the only forum where you would be listened to – however quiet voice may be.

    As for the crazies, the idiots, the corrupt private companies, the hypocrites (myself included) and all the rest, go wild.

  4. i’m not bitching about not being involved in the process. it’s my choice not to be involved in the process and i am very happy with my choice.

    And i absolutely can bitch about service delivery and corrupt politicians regardless of whether i voted or not. You have every right to complain about things that affect you adversely, or have you never ever made any kind of comment about Mugabe or Bush? You weren’t involved in those elections, and you absolutely could have been (nothing stopping you from moving to Zimbabwe and registering as a voter). So by your own logic, you have no right to complain about the government of any country that you haven’t exercised your right to vote in, where you potentially could. By your own logic, all international observers and political analysts should just shut the fuck up because they didn’t vote so what does their opinion count?

    And frankly the act of not voting can be a very effective and loud forum, or are you unfamiliar with a little town called Khutsong?

  5. Hey Moonie,

    while I totally respect your decision not to vote, as is your right, I feel that your arguments are wrong. I’ve never been shy about letting people know when I think they’re wrong and I’m not going to start now, even really good friends are mistaken from time to time and debate is a good thing, freedom of expression and all that.

    I hear you on the meritocracy! OMFG this would so rock. You’re right, even retards (close minded fuckers, as oppose to people with actual mental retardation, I’m not really sure about them) get to vote, but if intelligent people don’t vote because of this they merely give the ‘tards a higher weighting in the polls. Just because other people are going to screw up doesn’t mean people who know what they are doing shouldn’t take a stand on the issues.

    You argue that our country’s democracy is broken because “we do not have a strong enough opposition to contest the ruling party in any meaningful way.” you go on to say that “We never will have a strong enough opposition, for the same reason that the ANC can do what it likes to its voters and will not lose – because people support their party because it’s their party.” See this is not a valid reason not to vote. You are never going to change the number of votes the ruling party receive, but if you don’t vote because they have a majority you actually strengthen that majority. Voter Turn out in yesterday’s election was a little above 47%, I’ll give you odds that most of the people who blindly vote for a party based solely on loyalty did actually vote. Now early reports suggest that the ruling party have received about 70% of the vote. If we estimate that approx 10% of the population feel the same way you do, what would have happened if they had voted? Well nationally 32.9% of eligible voters would still have voted for the ruling party but in this scenario 24.1% would have voted for opposition parties, this leaves the ruling party with only a 57.7% majority. If the same numbers are applied to Gauteng, where voter turn out was only 27% the results would have changed to only a 51.1% majority. That’s how not voting because you think one party is too strong affects the results.

    You mention splitting of the opposition and that even if the opposition were totally unified it wouldn’t make a difference because the ruling party would hold such a high percentage of the vote. Currently they do have enough of a majority to simply change the constitution if they wanted to, even if the opposition was added into one party their votes still would be ineffective. Your statements are absolutely true, but isn’t that an argument for voting, not against it? I mean logically it doesn’t make sense to say “The opposition isn’t strong enough so there’s no point in my voting for them”. If this isn’t what you meant then what did you mean?

    Floor crossing is a completely different issue. This law is broken, but it doesn’t negate the importance of voting. If you don’t agree with this law then vote for a party that promises to change it, just bear in mind that for that you need to wait for national elections to do that.

    I mentioned major struggles that happened all over the world because people wanted the right to self determination (one struggle which I failed to mention is the Suffragist movement which fights for the rights of women to vote). I didn’t mention these struggles in some kind of stupid, sentimental attempt to make you feel guilty about the people who have sacrificed so that you could vote. I pointed out that all these struggles started because people wanted the right to self determination, because they realised that it was important enough to fight for. Now that everybody in this country has the right to Self Determination you may exercise that right by not voting, this may be because you don’t like the system, or even as you say “there is no candidate I feel is worth supporting”, but know that by choosing not to participate you are letting someone else choose for you. By not supporting anyone you are in fact supporting the majority view. This is not altogether a bad thing, if you think the people voting are going to make good decisions, but we’ve already discussed how most of the people voting are morons. I mentioned an obligation to vote, well that obligation is only to yourself and the people you care about. If you feel that not voting has the same effect your lives as voting then this obligation is meaningless, but sometimes you really do have to just vote for the lesser evil.

    So in conclusion you say our system is broken, I agree. However I feel that the part that is broken is that intelligent people who do know what the issues are and are bright enough to vote don’t. Floor Crossing is allowed in the law, it’s wrong, but not a valid reason not to vote. Corruption is rife in our country, it’s wrong, but not a valid reason not to vote. There are only two ways to make a difference in these and the multitude of other issues facing our country. One is to make your voice heard and cast you vote for the party that will do things the way you want, or at least against the party that does things the way you don’t want. The second is open revolution, but I’ve got a better idea.

    Let’s you and me start our own party. We can stand for the abolition of democracy and the introduction of meritocracy. We can promise that if we win a majority we will give only the deserving the right to vote, we can promise that services will be provided on a who pays for them basis and that we will immediately start research into giving you the power to explode heads (of course I’ll have to pilfer funds from that one to run a side project to ensure that I have immunity to having my head exploded). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing wrong with totalitarianism is that I’m not in charge!

    I know it’s not likely that we’d win, but we’d only need about 53000 votes to get us each a seat in parliament on the gravy train. From there on out it’s the cushy life for us, if we’re lucky we may even be paid huge sums of money to cross the floor to a party that needs to swell its ranks.



    PS: To comment about Khutsong. The situation in Khutsong is exactly what I’m talking about. Here 29000 were registered to vote. How many did? 232, with 12 spoilt ballots! Who won? The Ruling Party. That means that 29000 unhappy people allowed 220 make the decision for them and put the party they were upset with into power. How exactly did boycotting help them? Well people know they are upset. So what? There aren’t going to be re-elections and the Ruling Party is still in control of the area despite 29000 people not wanting it. What should they have done? They should have voted for candidates that would have looked after them better than the last lot did. Instead the same people who abandoned them are in power again. I would really not be surprised if the whole “boycott the vote” movement was not started to ensure that people who felt strongly about the issues would not vote at all. Here is proof that people don’t care about the people that boycotted. And a follow up on the latest news about who won.

  6. i did not make this post in order to get into arguments with people who i consider to be friends. I made it to state my position. Unfortunately in my experience (and the exact same thing happened during the govt elections) stating my position has only ever resulted in a frothing, almost zealous response from voters. Even stating atheism to a religious person has not resulted in the kind of authoritarian reaction as i have experienced from voters.

    I am stating my position, not telling you that yours is wrong or invalid. I would appreciate it if you would return the favour. If you feel the need to state your position, do it on your own blogs. I am not going to continue defending myself against you, because i should not have to. That you all continue to tell me i am wrong, instead of admitting that in a democratic society i am within my rights regardless of my reasons, only makes me question how well you really defend those rights. They do not only count when they are convenient for you.

  7. but since you did ask me to clarify what i meant on one point, i will do so. The dominance of the ruling party absolutely does mean that voting for the opposition will have no major effect. You threw a lot of numbers out there, but lets get down to the basics: by common statistical law, those who voted are considered to be a sample of the population as a whole. This means that if 70% of those who voted did so for the ruling party, then statistically 70% of those who did not vote would also have voted ANC. So saying those who do not vote, should vote, is not going to change the outcome in any statistically significant way, because you are including those who, if they voted, would vote for the ruling party. And they outnumber those who would vote for the opposition. This must hold true if those who vote are considered to be an accurate sample of the whole population. And if they aren’t, what’s the point of voting not being compulsary? Either it’s an accurate sample, or you need a 100% vote to be sure. This is part of why i think democracy is stupid.

    So yes, IF the point of voting for me is to get rid of the ruling party, and since voting for the opposition is never going to change the minds of those 70% who still think the ruling party is great, then there is no point in voting.

    But that is not why i am not voting. That’s just why i wouldn’t vote IF i thought democracy was a valid process. But i don’t, so the point is moot.

  8. Fair Enough,

    Btw I wasn’t frothing or attacking, right at the begining of the post I did say that not voting was a option you were entitled to. If I disagree with your reasons then I’m going to say so, just as you’d say if you disagreed with me.

    If this argument is going to impose any strain I’d rather simply end it now. There are far better things that we could spend out energy on, for example we could continue our discussion about whether or not Silver Halfling Dueling Daggers would have been better than Ten Arrows To The Death.

    Still Friends?

  9. Um, I forgot to say I was sorry if I upset you.

  10. silly schpat, you didn’t upset me and i wasn’t talking about only you. i’m just constantly surprised at the reactions of people when i say i don’t vote. They are always at the very least knee-jerk, and at the very worst completely personal, to the extent that during one irc conversation people actually resorted to calling me names because they didn’t agree with me. My position has been called ‘sad’ on more than one occasion now. Maybe I should start keeping a tally.

    If i had put up a post about it being Lent and how i don’t celebrate it because i’m an atheist, i highly doubt i would have had lengthy comments about my reasons for atheism being wrong. But maybe people are just more pc about religion than democracy.

    Anyway, i agree, lets start that party. But you can be president.

  11. I was always going to be president, the power to explode heads belongs with the minister of defence & punishment

  12. Anonymous Says:

    If you can’t argue with friends, who’s going to challenge your world view, change your opinions, make you a better person?

  13. why on EARTH was that posted anonymously?

  14. “if you can’t argue with friends…”

    hmm, the same could be said of posting anonymously.

    Besides, the obvious answer is: enemies. What’s a nemesis for anyway, if not to challenge you?–>

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