There has been a lot of discussion in the press and on social media about the merits of not voting as a protest again our current First Past The Post system. While I agree that FPTP is not a fair way to select our government – there are various forms of Proportional Representation, each of which is far more representative of the actual votes cast – those choosing not to vote in protest may be doing more harm than good.
Firstly, the argument about FPTP applies far less for the European and council elections, which are what we are voting in today, than when it comes to a General Election. When we had an opportunity to change the system 3 years ago the one posited, Alternative Vote (AV), was the least effective of the PR systems available, and little was done to educate the electorate, so that came to nothing and the voter turnout was as woeful as usual (42.2%). At that referendum, only 0.59% of people spoiled their ballot, presumably as they did not think the correct PR system had been put forward. That small percentage at least came out to vote, and still made their voices heard, but the 57.8% that did not go to the polls could have swayed the decision either way or protested on a massive scale if everyone used their vote.
I know it’s old hat to say so, but people fought and died for the right to vote – we should not take it for granted. All over the world there are people, particularly women, who are denied this right. Many people living in poverty under corrupt governments would give their eye-teeth to vote. Or, in faux-elections under dictators, to have legitimate options. Even in the UK, some people are unable to truly use their vote because they live in Uncontested Wards (what used to be called ‘Rotten Boroughs’), meaning the election is decided before it runs as no one has any choice in who will represent them. You can read Darren Hughes article on this here. Only FPTP allows this to happen, so wanting to protest our current voting system is entirely valid and understandable, but I think there are better ways to go about it.
In my opinion, not voting to effect change is a dangerous gamble as it only means fewer people are deciding who governs us and your voice is not heard. FPTP is not a fair system, but by not voting we run a great risk of increased representation of right wing parties at the moment. Most people protesting our current system are left wing, and for me the chance of parties like UKIP and the BNP gaining seats is, for me, not worth gambling on. I have cast my vote(s) today, and am proud to have done so. I continue to support the campaigns for a fairer UK voting system and hope we will achieve it – to me the Single Transferable Vote (STV) is the best, fairest system, but there are lots to choose from, all more representative than FPTP and AV. I would encourage anyone who is dissatisfied with the current system to check out The Electoral Reform Society website – they set all the different voting system options in a very easy to understand way and are linked to a number of campaigns who are hoping to change it.
Finally, If you still feel like not voting is the best way to have your voice heard and you want your protest to mean something, make the effort to go to the polls and spoil your ballot – this at least is an active protest rather than passively not attending, and will register a level of disaffection rather than looking like voter apathy.