Voter apathy – “None of the above”

Now Gordon Brown has finally called a General Election, it’s time for democracy to take over. I, for one, am very excited about the election and looking forward to staying up and watching the results trickle in and I am particularly looking forward to seeing how Social Media will play a part. Will this be another election like America’s most recent election, which saw Obama leverage Social Media to reach potential voters who wouldn’t otherwise participate?

But why will people not participate? In the last few weeks, I have spoken to a number of people about the election and politics in general. I think if you have been around me in the last 3 or 4 weeks you know exactly where I don’t stand. But people, of all ages, seem to be apathetic about the whole process. When asked, I either get the response, “What’s the point, they’re all the same”, or the even more frustrating “I’m not allowed to vote, my religion prevents it”.

People in general are clearly apathetic about the whole process. They look at the politicians, who are all fighting for the centre-ground, grasping at every benefit they can squeeze out of the system and acting seemingly unaware to their election manifesto. Politics has changed. Gone are the days of “old politics”, where you were a “lefty” or a “Tory”, or even a “bleedin’ heart liberal”. These aren’t particularly nice terms for what can often be deep beliefs and ideals, but they engendered a determinism in people. People were staunchly left, or right. They believed in their ideology and could trust their chosen party to implement those ideologies in whichever way they saw fit. Now, with all the parties fighting for the centre-ground, ground which had already been owned (and apparently sold) by the liberals, there are no real differences anymore. Choosing one party over the other isn’t going to produce the “change” that it perhaps could, which itself could regenerate politics, wider economics, and society.

I’m still sorry to have reacted in a very negative way about when I heard why someone (in their 50′s) would not vote. After stating “they’re all the same”, they then said they couldn’t vote anyway because their religion prevented it. Their religion is clearly a western religion, which despite appearances, is staunchly democratic in principle, so I can’t understand how this can be created in all seriousness within a western and democratic society. In what way does a religion have any right to restrict the rights and liberties of an individual? I can understand abstinence from the usual (adultery, theft, etc. is generally looked down upon), but exercising a civil right? I don’t think so.

I watched Blitz Street on Channel 4 yesterday and it highlighted the lengths to which people before us have gone to secure and maintain the right to exercise their role in a democratic process. That said, with the parties essentially fighting over what amounts to be a few hundred votes identified by their researchers as being likely to determine the success or otherwise of their individual parties, it i understandable why the vast majority of people feel disenfranchised from the process.

So what’s the solution?

We could take Australia’s policy and make it illegal to abstain from the process. Does this solve the problem, though? The fines are small so are an inconvenience at best, and it just means the voting papers will be spoilt or random selections be made just to “tick the box”. No, what is needed is a message to the incumbent and opposition that the present candidates are not acceptable. Such an option would be “None of the above”. By marking in “None of the above”, you will be specifically identifying your disatisfaction with the process or the candidate and not encoding this view into actions such as spoiling your paper or voting for a ridiculous option, such as Screaming Lord Such. Based on the results, the Electoral Services will be able to identify whether there is a dissatisfaction by region, demographic, or otherwise or parties may use the results to drive forward reform in constitutional processes.