When it comes to election season, no matter where you are in the world, it’s hard to believe your vote will count. There are so many people turning up at the polls, so many people all over the country, that it’s easy to think your vote doesn’t matter.
In Australia we have compulsory voting. Everyone over the age of 18 is legally obligated to vote. There’s a fine if you don’t. In other countries, like America, voting is an option. If you don’t want to vote, you don’t have to.
I admit that goes against everything I’ve been brought up to believe in. Sure there have been times when I looked at the available options and wished I could stay home or vote for Kodos, but regardless of the political system you live under, it usually comes down to voting for the least objectionable choice.
In Australia we vote under the Westminster System which basically means we vote for a local member. The party with the most votes, wins. Since 2010 the waters surrounding how we vote have been muddied. The rolling of a sitting Prime Minister, and the Amercianisation of the electoral system by then opposition leader, Tony Abbott helped to distort the discussion about who we actually voted for. The Party Leader or the Party.
In American the Presidential election is much simpler, although infinitely more complicated for an outsider looking in. Two Presidential candidates, plus a Green and an Independent run around the country for about 100 years campaigning to be Commander-in-Chief. There’s lots of rallies and handshaking, the occasional baby kissed for the world’s media. There also appears to be huge levels of mud slung with abandon, and celebrity endorsements. For all that it’s a political election, it has the feel of a Barnum & Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth” type vibe.
It’s also exhausting. I don’t honestly know how the American people put up with it. The most recent Australian election was the longest in memory at about 8 weeks. It was enough to wear out most Australia’s patience. A year long campaign wouldn’t cut it in Australia. The nation would zone out and God only knows what we’d end up with.
But back to the point, your vote does count. Whether you believe it or not the democratic right to have your say is important.
To give you an example of just why a vote matters, I turn to the Australian Senate. There’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian Senator.
In May 2016, after failing on multiple occasions to pass a particular piece of legislation, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pulled out his “get out of jail free card.” Granted he waited until he’d done a deal with the Australian Greens to pass the Senate Reform Bill, but the PM called a Double Dissolution election.
This means he dissolved both Houses of Parliament and sent Australia to the polls early. The main scope of this was to clear the Senate of the cross-bench of independent Senators and maybe, if he was lucky, get some new Liberal and National Senators in there to make life easier.
The gamble, which the media said was a brilliant strategic move at the time, turned out to be a bit of a disaster.
Despite the media coverage telling us that the Opposition Leader was going to lose horribly, it turned out that the people chose to exercise their votes. This was probably not expected given Australia’s overall reluctance to have a 1-term Government.
The Prime Minister lost his overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, going from one the biggest majorities in Australian history to a majority of just 1 seat. The Senate, the main reason Turnbull had thrown the Double Dissolution to the people in the first place turned into a bigger mess than before.
And the reason for this? In a nutshell the election reduced the number needed to obtain a seat. A political fringe-party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, managed to go from 0 seats to 4. The party already seems on the verge of imploding as the power that comes with the being wined and dined by the Government comes to a head.
With just 77 votes Australia nows has a Senator who is climate change denier, appears to have leanings towards being a sovereign citizen, has no experience in the world of politics and appears, at least according to his Senate Resume, to have been unemployed since 1993 when he left the mining industry for, as he told me on Twitter before blocking me “an extended study period into the lies of climate change.”
Any other election he would have, hopefully, struggled to get a seat but with this election he did. Yesterday he had a Major Policy Announcement, that turned out to be a 43 page report debunking climate change. For the amount of time he spent studying why climate change is wrong – by the way, the world is actually cooling down, not heating up according to his press conference – I would have assumed he’d be able to write more than 43 pages. I haven’t seen the report but I want to get my hands on it.
There’s a man in the Australian Senate, speaking for just 77 people. His vote effects the lives of 22+ million people. The Party has already voted to hit the unemployed with a social services cut and to support a $50 billion tax cut for some of Australia’s richest companies. The Party has said they’ll vote for the ABCC (the trigger for the Double Dissolution) when it next comes to the Senate. Last night they voted for the Marriage Equality Plebiscite, a $200 million public opinion poll that would have handed tens of millions of dollars to both the Yes and No campaign to explain why Marriage Equality was the right of every Australian to have a say in.
So why do I write this now? Over the last 100 years, or so it seems, my Facebook has been divided between Team Hillary, Team Trump, and Team “I don’t care, I don’t vote.”
Trump has carried on about the election being rigged if he doesn’t win, which leaves his followers so convinced their votes will be discarded that one woman has already been arrested for voting twice. When asked why, she explained to the media that Trump had warned them their votes would be destroyed so she thought she’d do it again, just to make sure her vote counted.
Whether you want a President Clinton or a President Trump is neither here nor there. Your vote is what makes the difference. Get out there and vote. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a President who won by default. And while it may be the American Presidency, the world can’t afford for you to make a mistake by sitting at home and thinking “it wouldn’t matter who I voted for, anyway.”
Optional or compulsory, your vote is your voice. Use it.