I don’t vote in national elections.
I have a reason particular to the objectivity requirements of my PR job. But my other reasons are probably similar to those driving the discomfort and dissent widely felt about modern democracy.
The main reason is that voting will undermine my objectivity. As a PR professional, my ideological prejudices can inform my advice but should never influence it. Voting would undermine my impartiality.
Fortunately though, my impartiality is never at risk. I am ambivalent about political parties. I find it remarkably easy not to side with any political Party – all cover my ideology, but none adequately.
It’s a hard attitude for many peers to understand. They tend to assume my preference must be the Party I had worked with. In this election it was the Internet Party. I got plenty of stick for that. I first saw it as a rare professional opportunity to design a new political movement / Party.
The previous electoral term I gave some advice to Labour. The term before that to Greens. Before that National. And of course, I started off my PR career working for Mike Moore when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (and with him as PM, then Leader of the Opposition).
And over that whole period – and since I turned 18 – I have only voted twice. The experience of both those events turned me off voting.
My first vote was under the electorate-only system. I wanted to vote Labour (to express a vote against the incumbent – more on this weakness in voting in a moment). The electorate system (FPP) meant I had to place my vote with an MP I thought, from direct experience working with Labour, to be a dork (an ex-Minister). The MP was everything I dislike in politicians – out of touch, ‘intellectual’, socially awkward. I had to vote for a guy I couldn’t trust to make a decision sympathetic to the interests of most of the public. I have regretted that vote for 20 years.
A few years later I was tempted to vote again – this time for Rodney Hide’s ACT Party, under MMP. We subsequently discovered that Hide’s populist perk-busting didn’t extend to his own freedom to eat well at the state-funded trough.
The trouble with voting is that you get politicians. Many people don’t want to vote for the sort of people who fight their way into politics. They’re not really there to accurately represent the public’s desires, or they sometime cease to be.
Thomas More (Utopia) and Gore Vidal proposed that anyone who wants to go into politics should be automatically disqualified from doing so. That implies a public nomination system of people prepared to do the job, but indifferent if they do not.
I’m not enamored with a system where you can only vote people in. Those you vote for don’t appreciate the decision, and those you don’t vote for, are never really aware of it. The upshot is that politicians are, effectively, encouraged by the system, rather than discouraged.
I like the Athenian system of expulsion. Voters could scribble on broken pots the name of a politician they wanted out. The politician with most votes got exiled. There’s no system better equipped to keep a politician acutely tuned to the will of the people than one where they can get personally selected and ignominiously turfed out at any moment.
What I find weirdest about voting is that our democracy is meant to be a “representative” system. The MPs are meant to represent ‘me’, or us. Yet, the current approach is for Parties to put up their policy positions, and I am meant to select one I agree with. So I have to fit myself to them, not they to me.
This means voters have to choose the “least worst” of the Parties – the one that is least ill fitting to their view of the world. I’ll write more on this later, because the extent to which Parties don’t fit the wildly varying ideologies of people explains why there are swinging voters, non-voters, angry voters, resentful voters… and no such thing as a mandate.
In my political advice and my personal ideology I am driven by the idea of politicians matching the will of the people, not the people matching the will of politicians.
I don’t feel guilty about not voting. Even if I didn’t have the approach I take to my profession to excuse it, I still wouldn’t be guilty. Not voting is a perfectly legitimate response to the lack of options available.