Don't wimp out at the ballot box

22 Comments

Ballot boxAt local markets, shopping centres and polling places we stand shivering in the cold. All is quiet until a stranger approaches with a grim, resigned expression, looking at their watch or cursing the weather. They avoid our gaze until the last moment, looking up briefly and maybe acknowledging our smiles and 'Good morning!'s, then slowing as we descend upon them, three or four of us reaching out to stuff papers into their retreating hands.

Most take how-to-vote cards from each of us, then lower their gaze and hurry into the polling place. Others will look at one of us knowingly, winking or giving a pat on the back before leaving. For that one moment, we feel part of something bigger. That moment differentiates us from the telemarketer or street-corner spruiker, and it is enough to warm our hearts and convince us to stick around for another hour making awkward conversation with the volunteers of other parties.

It may surprise 'normal' people to learn that many campaign volunteers have no political ambitions of our own, and stand to gain nothing from the time and labour we donate. Nor are we all starry-eyed university students who have yet to reach an inevitable disillusionment. We're just ordinary folk who believe wholeheartedly in the value of our democracy and the virtue of our party.

Admittedly, this is an election in which it is hard to mount a high horse brandishing party colours. But to us the party is more than a collection of election promises and slogans. It is this that compels us to brave the cold (and occasionally abuse from strangers) in its support.

Even in the safest seats you'll find volunteers at train stations from 5am, declaring the virtues of a candidate they may never have met, all to lose by a lesser margin than last time. Are we mad? Probably. So why do we so covet a vote that you may have little interest in? Especially when it may result in no tangible benefit to our party?

The answer is simple. Party members, like zombies, only want you for your brains.

Let's not kid ourselves. Sometimes, in a safe seat like the one I grew up in, your vote serves absolutely no purpose. The other guy is getting in. You can claim that you're 'sending a message', but the MP doesn't care about your message, as long as he's got the votes of 50 per cent of your neighbours.

But behind the MP there's a party made up of ubiquitous, unelected 'shadowy-figures' — party members, community members. We care because you are one of us, and we want you to see the world the way we do. Not because it'll allow us to implement policy; just because our way of thinking is the right way of thinking.

The motivation is different in marginal seats — your vote decides who governs — but the philosophy is still the same. It's a battle of ideas, and a major statement about the beliefs and vision of an entire nation. It is a chance to align yourself with like minds in a nation-wide show of hands.

In an election of miniscule policy differentiation and very little talk of vision, sometimes this battle for hearts and minds can be forgotten. Such recognisable figures as Mark Latham and the boys on The Chaser are even advising voters to cast informal votes.

In a representative democracy, this smacks of neglected responsibility.

It is typical of the individualism of our age that so many people are now talking of 'making their voice heard' by voting for a minor party representing sectional interests. Presumably this conclusion is reached through a belief that having one's exact policy concerns voiced in Parliament is more important than the chance to build broad consensus and momentum for nationwide action.

Presumably, those voting for minor parties are unfazed by the thought that the 'populism' of major parties actually appeals to a popular majority.

This election is boring because we allow it to be so. If you want to hear more visionary ideas, then speak up. If the policies sound dumb, then say so. There is an old feminist saying: 'don't get mad, get elected'. In a representative democracy, a vacuous election represents a lazy polity.

It would be easy to cast a donkey vote or a vote for a minor party and thus wash your hands of the responsibility for our governance for the next three years. As the economy falters, as civil liberties are denied or as the Earth warms, you can shrug smugly and say 'I didn't vote for this government'.

The more difficult course of action is to take responsibility for the society in which you live, not just on election day but as part of your permanent civic duty. To attend council gatherings, party branch meetings, the AGM of a local not-for-profit or community group, or to write conscientiously to local papers or MPs.

These are hard, time-consuming tasks. You'll not be thanked. But one day, as you shiver in the cold, someone might give you a wink and call you comrade. And that just might take the sting out of another electoral defeat.


Edwina ByrneEdwina Byrne is a recent graduate of Melbourne University with degrees in History and Musicology. She is a volunteer for a marginal campaign in Victoria. On Saturday she will be handing out how-to-vote cards and watching the count with friends.

Topic tags: Edwina Byrne, Election 2010, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, election 2010, liberal, labor, greens

 

 

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Existing comments

Voting for a minor party is not "wimping out". Because of preferential voting, we are all forced to eventually choose between the majors, but a first vote for a minor party is the only protest we have against two such bland and visionless (except for wanting to be the government) parties. I'm voting Green (and handing out cards) - not wimping out!
Russell Kilgour | 20 August 2010


Well put Edwina even with a touch of Rapsody, I'll spare an extra thought as I run the gauntlet at the Churchill Uniting Church Polling Booth tomorrow. Usually I have my own cut out selection to save a tree; sometimes I take one of each of the cards, and return them to the volunteer as I depart (to save a twig of a tree. It's easy to take our right to vote for granted. In Cambodia it is different - people have to sign up to get on the roll, weather the threats of the locals, and dip a finger in ink to show they have voted only once. Then with the result the power brokers of all parties squabble for some of the victory. We in Oz take so much for granted. But then our polies treat us with their mantra slogans.
Mike Parer | 20 August 2010


Thanks, Edwina, for articulating what many of us know and appreciate about our democratic rights and responsibilities. When I think that all we have to do in Australia is decide if we'll vote before the grocery shopping or on the way to the footie game when in other countries we'd know for sure that, by the end of the election day, some people would have been killed for the privilege of voting, I shake my head in sorrow over the waste of informal voting. I, too, wear the T-shirt, hand out the "How to vote" cards and hope that fellow electors have seriously considered the effect of their decision, whichever way it falls. Depending on the booth, there is often a camaraderie amongst all the parties' workers, all understanding that what drives us is the desire for a healthy democratic system.
Trish Bartlett | 20 August 2010


Edwina, your piece suggests that voting informal, casting a 'donkey vote' and voting for a minor party are equivalent. When I vote for a minor party tomorrow I will be expressing a protest (which you yourself encourage us to do in other ways) but because of preferential voting I am forced still to express an ultimate choice between the two main parties.
John | 20 August 2010


I second Russell Kilgour's comments. I have been a member of a major political party and have seen first hand how uninterested they are in people's lives, feelings or democracy.
Gary Matthews | 20 August 2010


Edwina,
The suggestion that to vote for a minor party (or an independent) is to wash one's hands of responsibility is mendacious, not to mention offensive to the many intelligent, free thinking individuals who have considered the options before them and decided that the best course of action is to vote for a minor party or an independent.

This is particularly so in the Senate, which would long have ceased to be an effective house of review, were it not for the minor parties acting as a check on the ambitions on the major parties.

Paul Locke | 20 August 2010


You don't opt out by voting for a minor party. It is our only way of telling the Two that their bribes are not policies.
Remember we have preferential voting, so voting for a minor party is never lost.
The media may prefer a two-horse race, but the minor parties all have something to say. It is not their fault they are ignored or mistreated. They have not the money from big corporations. They are not given the voice.
valerie yule | 20 August 2010


Thanks Edwina, you made the points about minor parties correctly. Those who think thay are lodging a protest vote are sadly mistaken. A look at the Greens' social agenda should show them the mischief they will create in the government of this country. If you think you need to protest at party policies, join the party and do it there. It's a well known fact that the most effective changes will come from within. Join a party and have your say but don't vote for a populist agenda and waste your vote
Paul Rummery | 20 August 2010


We all deserve the Government we have. If anybody is doing “the donkey” and does not fill out the ballot paper or votes for one of the crazy fringe parties, then they have forfeited any right to complain. The worst outcome for the coming elections would be a situation where enough “donkey votes” would have given the Greens the balance of power.

In Germany a similar situation occurred and their economy is now slowly recovering from the damage of this area. Australia cannot afford to have a party like the Greens in a situation of power to wreck our economy for years to come.
Beat Odermatt | 20 August 2010


Thanks for this, Edwina.

On Saturday, I will be handing out how-to-votes for a minor party, precisely because of the signal failure of the major parties to do anything other than shuffle a few deck chairs.

History? Please read Ronald Wright's "Short History of Progress".
David Arthur | 20 August 2010


The author wrote: "Presumably, those voting for minor parties are unfazed by the thought that the 'populism' of major parties actually appeals to a popular majority."

I hand out htv cards for a minor party and support democracy by that act. I support the Greens' policies and do not see why I should be fazed by the fact that the majority of Australians don't. One can agree with the majority in the worst tyranny. Vital to democracy is the idea that all views can be expressed not merely the most popular ones.
David Fisher | 20 August 2010


On a scale of intellectual ease, voting for one of the major parties probably comes second after the donkey vote. Campaigning to turn minor parties into major parties takes a greater investment of faith, because it is necessarily a more long-term proposition, with fewer guarantees of eventual success.

Sometimes easier tasks are more admirable than laborious one, of course, especially when we are calculating the odds of failure. But if that means voting to defend Australia's two-party status quo against possibilities of a more pluralist democracy, it is not clear that the easier approach is more ethical.

Cath Bowtell's main argument in the race for the seat of Melbourne is that one of only two parties will lead the next government. Bowtell is a very strong candidate for a very leftist seat: in a country still inclined to turn right, she has long been a strong advocate for the underprivileged. But the Greens' strongest argument against her campaign is that her 'progressive' values should mean challenging Labor rather than saving its privileged position.

The genius of minor parties and independents is their popular (but not populist) claim that the power duopoly should end.
Tom Clark | 20 August 2010


On a scale of intellectual ease, voting for one of the major parties probably comes second after the donkey vote. Campaigning to turn minor parties into major parties takes a greater investment of faith, because it is necessarily a more long-term proposition, with fewer guarantees of eventual success.

Sometimes easier tasks are more admirable than laborious one, of course, especially when we are calculating the odds of failure. But if that means voting to defend Australia's two-party status quo against possibilities of a more pluralist democracy, it is not clear that the easier approach is more ethical.

Cath Bowtell's main argument in the race for the seat of Melbourne is that one of only two parties will lead the next government. Bowtell is a very strong candidate for a very leftist seat: in a country still inclined to turn right, she has long been a strong advocate for the underprivileged. But the Greens' strongest argument against her campaign is that her 'progressive' values should mean challenging Labor rather than saving its privileged position.

The genius of minor parties and independents is their popular (but not populist) claim that the power duopoly should end.
Tom Clark | 20 August 2010


I feel the earth getting warmer, or maybe its my blood boiling, when I read obfuscations from those who have the time and temperament to help Christians think clearly about these things. The cold hard facts listed here: of which no serious business has been done in this place. This is criminal given its implications. If Christians don't do this kind of work who will?

Here is a list of some of what the Greens publicly stand for.
1. Christians not allowed to voice their values and beliefs in public discourse
2. Public cricitism of other religions and homosexuality to be outlawed as “vilification of minorities”
3. Abolition of tax exemptions for Christian organisations
4. Abolition of selective employment privileges for Christian organisations
5. Funding removed from Christian independent schools
6. All schools forced to teach secular values, secular morality (including “gay = normal”), and evolutionism
7. Replacement of school chaplaincy and Scripture classes with secular equivalents
8. Non abstinence based sex education
9. Universal, free, Medicare funded abortions from conception to full term
10. Legalisation of euthanasia
11. Legalisation of human embryo research and therapeutic cloning
12. Gay and lesbian marriage
13. Adoption of children by same sex couples
14. Medicare funded assisted reproductive services for same sex couples
15. Christian churches, hospitals, and agencies forced against conscience to participate in abortions, same sex marriage and same sex adoption
16. Easier access to X-rated pornography, especially in emerging media (eg. PC games, the internet)
17. Decriminalisation of drugs, safe injecting rooms
Martin Snigg | 20 August 2010


If Edwina really thinks that "Presumably, those voting for minor parties are unfazed by the thought that the 'populism' of major parties actually appeals to a popular majority", the ALP (which she is presumably a member of, although Eureka Street doesn't have the integrity to inform us of this)is in big trouble.

Edwina, the big parties appeal to populism to reach the 15% of voters called 'swinging voters" in marginal electorates, who are either ignorant or don't care about politics. It's got nothing to do with what the majority wants. Your argument is that we should only vote for the big parties is an argument for political decay as there is no scope for change. The major parties are so similar that we effectively live in a one party state with a factionalised ruling party. And let's not hear anymore that the ALP is a progressive party. It's a centre-right party and the Coalition is a far right party.
Colin | 20 August 2010


Ditto Paul Locke.
This article is shallow, naive, and just a plug for the major parties.

Our democracy is systemically corrupt, precisely because the major parties pander to the most influential, who are currently the wealthy. It's a plutocracy. Witness the miner's campaign and the coal industry's total blocking of any real action on global warming.

We will only dislodge the gutless and corrupt major parties by NOT voting conventionally.

Personally I will not be numbering all the boxes in my lower house ballot. Labor can't take my preference for granted, and basically ignore the real needs of the country by continuing to be Howard Lite.

No, it's not a donkey vote, because the Labor scrutineers will be watching very closely. They're very afraid the preference flow that keeps their useless hulk of a party from sinking might dry up.
Geoff Davies | 20 August 2010


Edwina is right about donkey votes, casting one consigns to the rubbish dump the the heroic sacrfices of those who gave their all to have a say in the way we are ruled. Established by the English Glorious Revolution 1688 .

Having got that right she is hopelessly wrong about a vote for minor parties. In fact a vote for a minor party can be a vote for protcting, or developing the democratic ideal won by those pioneers won all those years a go. A democratis process that has been mugged by the tweedledum circus we are presented with today.

This merging of the major parties of capitalism means that I shall be voting Green tommorrow. It challenges them and puts the issues that confront our country, and indeed the planet, on the agenda.
Reg Wilding | 20 August 2010


I know how it feels handing out How to vote cards outside the polling booths, braving the cold, the rain or the heat and sometimes abuses. I love it because I am doing work that I am passionate about, to stand up for God, for Family and for Life. On Saturday I will hand out How to vote cards for the Christian Democratic Party. Even though I get an occasional abuse, I smile all the time and I can keep my head high because I do it for Jesus and to keep Australia a Christian nation. I will pray for Edwina Byrne in the hope that her How to vote cards are Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro- Life.

Ron Cini | 20 August 2010


To quote Bernie Fraser,when voting remember what kind of a civilised society you want Australia to be. In other words, it's not about the mining tax, the management or otherwise of the stimulus or whoever is better at running the economy, or whoever is better is stopping the boat ( a Coalition paranoia), or whoever is better to restore the nation's surplus. It's whether we want to live in a society that is charitable and truly civilised.
Alex Njoo | 20 August 2010


Voting for a minor party isn't wimping out. It does send a strong message, particularly the more votes minor parties get, the stronger the message. We need to encourage everyone to vote and vote minor, becauase they will not longer then be minor and will become major players. Not all minor parties only opt for specific issue based polices, some minor parties are broad and all encompassing.

Socialist Alliance is a minor party that fits that bill, a political party of the people, for the people, by the people and I would encourage everyone to vote for this party....it needs to be a major party, essentially as the only party with a real climate change policy that will effectively stop runaway climate change.

We desperately need an anti-capitalist party to do this, capitalism caused the climate crisis and there is no way it can or will solve it. It must remain in public hands, for the public. Vote minor, vote Socialist Alliance!
Sanna | 21 August 2010


Edwina a vote for a minor party is not a wasted vote. I voted for the Democratic Labor Party in the Senate and it looks like John Madigan from Victoria has got in! John is 100% pro life and will be a compassionate, fair minded politician. Even if he does not get in on the final count, his preferences would go to another party.
Cath | 22 August 2010


Simply brilliant!
John Byrne | 23 August 2010


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