There is now a reasonable argument for not voting.

I have always voted, and I’ve always argued that people should vote. The truth is, voting does matter and does shape the society we live in, and under our electoral system, a relatively small number of votes does change the result.

Having said all that, I cannot really find a good reason to vote in an Irish general election. There is an historical argument, that people died for our right to vote, and I should honour their sacrifice. There is a global argument, that across the world, millions go without the choice I have. These are true: But I would be making as much of a symbolic gesture by making a donation to the National Museum or Freedom House as I would by voting to elect the next Dail.

The reality is that electing either Fianna Fail, or a Fine Gael/Labour coalition brings a level of change that would be unnoticeable to people who actually look for it. FF do not believe in political change or reform, and FG and Labour say they do, but cannot point to anything which radically improves my say as a citizen, my ability to change things. Economically, they will be the same. FG and Labour refuse to be clear as to the big things. Yes, both have published detailed documents, but when you read them, neither addresses the big issue: How do you promise to reverse the billions of euro in cutbacks that you have opposed without raising taxes on PAYE workers? The truth is, they won’t. The cutbacks will stand, and Labour in particular will be riven with bitterness as its poll ratings fall in government on the back of broken aspirations. FG will have yet another “Forrest Gump” moment of delight at being in a wonderful place despite themselves.

The Greens, ironically, offer the one chink of light. They are delivering on things like an elected mayor and civil partnership, but they don’t seem to have grasped that without pushing through electoral reform, they are doomed, because they don’t have to win a noble 5%. They have to win 15% in a constituency, one in six voters, and that ain’t going to happen, except maybe in Dublin North, and that’s only because Trevor will be elected as Trevor and despite being Green.

But here’s the positive bit about not voting: We’re not living in Chile or Nicaragua where one side of the ballot can sometimes hold monsters. Six months after the election, regardless of who wins, things will be pretty much the way they were, and the secret police won’t be knocking down our door, so I suppose we should be grateful for that. 

15 thoughts on “There is now a reasonable argument for not voting.

  1. Joanna, any chance you can put in a link to the pre-budget document you mentioned? I couldn’t find it on the Labour website.

  2. BK

    That’s because I commented earlier on the same issue on a previous post on this blog to do with electoral reform. I take an interest in the issue

    On the other question. I think we will reverse some cuts, we would make other cuts (as per our pre budget document) we would reinvest some of the money saved in job creation measures and we would bring in a third rate of tax in addition to abolishing any remaining tax shelters such as the ones where people avoid tax by investing in private pension schemes. Will Labour be riven with bitterness if we have to take some unpopular measures that mean we drop in the polls while in Government? It won’t be a new situation for Labour, because we had a bad election in 1997 largely because Ruairi Quinn unlike Fianna Fail Ministers for Finance didn’t deliver a give away budget to buy the subsequent election. But Labour left a good legacy after that election, including in relation to finances and more income equality in the country. If in the next Government we are in, we deliver more income equality, stable public finances, and better public services includin a universal health system, I for one won’t be bitter, if we lose the following election. Labour in Britain 1945 to 1951 left the best legacy in terms of change than any previous British Government, in particular the NHS, out of a ruined economy and ruined infrastructure following World War 2 and their poll ratings fell and they lost the election. But their time in Government, short an all that it was, was worthwhile. Labour in Ireland should aim for that kind of Government as opposed to a popular one or one that makes hard decisions either.

  3. Am I alone in thinking that it is somewhat ironic that the one TD contributing on this page used the opportunity to talk about electoral reform (as laudable as that is) rather than attempt to disabuse us of the accusations leveled at the Labour party in the post i.e.

    “Labour refuse to be clear as to the big things. Yes, both have published detailed documents, but when you read them, neither addresses the big issue: How do you promise to reverse the billions of euro in cutbacks that you have opposed without raising taxes on PAYE workers? The truth is, they won’t. The cutbacks will stand, and Labour in particular will be riven with bitterness as its poll ratings fall in government on the back of broken aspirations”.

  4. Joanna, I agree that closed lists would be more likely. I have as little faith in FF, FG and Labour as you! Given a choice between STV and closed party lists, I’ll stick with STV.

  5. Jason,

    And on a similar note, you can be pretty sure if lists are brought in here, they won’t be open in any meaningful sence. The Party Leaderships will ensure control. The fact that voters get to have the ultimate say in our system is a great leveller.

  6. Jason,

    I would probably have been too low down on a list to be elected. Not one of those types that plays up to Party Leaders/executives etc.

  7. How is the bar too low? 3% which you suggested is, by the 2007 election, 62,000 votes. That’s 10 times the number of votes you got, which puts you, by your own definition, not only under the bar but practically subterannean! The only difference is that your votes were all located in a single area, whereas that 62,000 votes would be nationwide. But so what? If I want to vote for a candidate in Donegal, or Joanna Tuffy for that matter, even though I live in Dun Laoghaire, surely that’s my business. You want to restrict my choice just to the candidates in my local area, whereas under my system, people can vote for you OR other Labour candidates.

    As for the Shinners, even they are entitled to a fair share of seats, God love them.

  8. Good reason for our present system so! The point is if the Greens brought in a list the bar would be set too low in my opinion. At least under the present system the Green TDs that get elected have to persuade the voters to vote for them and to develop a reputation for work, or integrity or whatever. My main point is the Greens are just as likely to win seats under the present system and on a good day do better than they would under a list system. The way to get more proportionality is to have bigger constituencies and you still get to have that accountability for individual candidates. For example if Sinn Fein operated on basis of lists here it would be Gerry Adams TD probably with no accountability as an individual candidate to voters in a constituency.

  9. Joanna, 11 percent does not win you a seat in most cases. 11 percent plus transfers gets you a seat. Sinn Fein got 6.9% of votes, giving them 11 seats proportionately. They actually got 4. A list system would have given them 11.

  10. Jason,

    In fact under the present electoral system the Greens would probably win just as much if not more seats than under a list system (assuming that is what you have in mind). Just say that their national percentage is 3 per cent at present and that was the (very low percentage) under which seats could be won under the list system. In an election their percentage might go up or down but they would be unlikely to win more than one or two seats under a list electoral system as a smaller party in an outgoing but not very popular Government. On the other hand they would have just as good a chance of winning those seats under our present system. By the way it does not require 15 per cent to win a seat in many constituencies, and in the constituencies where the Greens (and on that occassion Labour) won or lost seats in the last General Election roughly 11 per cent of first preferences was enough to elect some TDs. Unless by electoral reform you mean bigger constituencies. That might lead to interesting outcomes although it did not save the Green seats in the local elections.

  11. The global argument reminds me of “Eat your dinner… There are starving children in Africa.”

    Maybe we could send some of our fine politicians to Chile and Nicaragua – minus expenses 🙂

  12. If People died for the right to vote they also died for the right to abstain.
    Voting changes fuck all.

  13. The price of liberty – and, in case it’s not clear, that takes in a huge range of things – is eternal vigilance. It is my belief that many of our current woes are not unconnected to falling voter participation.

    Now, you suggest that there will be no price to pay for taking the easy way out.

    Words fail me (for the moment) but I will say that this must be the worst blog post that you have ever written. I won’t complain if you take it down before anyone else sees it.

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