Let me make it clear from the start: this is not about telling you who to vote for. That’s on you.
However, what I’ve come to realise over the last several years is that it is absolutely essential that you do vote.
Coming from a country where voting is mandatory and enforced by law, it has been eye-opening to live in a country where people do not have to vote. Once, I would have been all for that; if you can’t abide either candidate, why would you vote for either of them? The answer is surprisingly simple: if you don’t vote, you still have to live with the consequences of whomever gets elected. As an immigrant who is now not legally permitted to vote in any elections here, yet who is still bound by the outcomes of said elections, I have gained a new appreciation on the importance of voting and want you to understanding why it is absolutely essential you make use of your right to vote.
Every vote counts
You’ve heard, maybe even thought to yourself, that one vote can’t make a difference. And you’re right. The likelihood of a single vote determining the outcome of any election is infinitely small. What you need to understand is that it’s not about one vote; it’s about thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of one votes. Those numbers can and do make a difference. You may only be one raindrop, but collectively those raindrops form a down pour.
In the United States, voter turn out over the last 20 years has ranged between 50-57%; at the last election in 2016 55.5% of eligible voters cast ballots. This means that even in close contests, the outcome of any election has been determined by a minority (in most cases less than a third of the population) of US citizens. By contrast, the last federal election in Australia saw over 90% of eligible voters put forward their preferences. We may not always like who ultimately wins, but we can say that the decision was most likely made by the majority of Australians, and is therefore arguably representative of the Australian population. This is the intention of mandatory voting – to ensure the outcome is truly representative of the majority. In practice it doesn’t really work that way, but the intention is valid: the more people vote, the more representative the outcome is.
In the US federal elections become even more complicated through the electoral colleges. I’m not even going to pretend I understand how that works, however I know this much: the electoral colleges are (generally, not always) influenced by the tide of voting in their State, and tend to go along with that. Unfortunately – as is my understanding – States do not get an equal number of electoral college votes, which is why you’ll hear about candidates focusing their campaigns in certain “swing” States.
Not voting still affects the outcome
We’ve probably all been in positions where no matter what choices we’re presented with, we don’t really like any of them. However it’s rare that we don’t have to make some kind of choice, even if it’s one we’re not especially happy with. In that case, ideally, we most likely choose the one that will do the least harm to us, the “lesser of two evils”. We do that because we realise if we don’t, the decision may be made for us, and that might actually be worse.
If you decide not to vote, you are still determining the outcome of an election. The reason for this is understanding that every vote has two values. A vote for something is also a vote against something else, and vice versa. This is an important concept to grasp because in deciding not to vote you are not only not supporting someone or something you don’t want, you’re also not supporting the viable (if not exactly desirable) alternative. You’re making no choice, and leaving it up to others to determine the outcome. An outcome that, despite your lack of input, is still going to affect you directly whether you want it to or not.
Your choice, your consequences
And there’s the kicker – whether you decide to vote or not, you are still going to have to live with the consequences of your decision. You don’t simply absolve yourself of responsibility by not voting. While it’s true that voting does not guarantee you will get the result you want, not voting guarantees that you will have no say in the final outcome. You can yell, “not my leader” all you want, but ultimately that person, that party, that authority is going to be making decisions that will have a direct impact on your life. You might not like your choices, and that’s ok. Vote anyway. You still have an opportunity to try to make the ‘least bad’ choice until a person, party or cause comes along that you can get behind and support. Sometimes it is better to vote against something if you can’t vote for something else.
As someone who has no say, who has had that right taken away from them, whose life and the lives of his family and loved ones are at the mercy of those who can determine these outcomes, I can assure you that you want to have that say. That you want to retain and exercise that power, and not have these decisions made for you. If you let it go, the day may come where you lose it altogether.
Whatever your personal views, whatever you believe, whatever your support: VOTE.