Letters & Opinion

Discouraging Voting Should Be Outlawed!

By  Earl Bousquet
By Earl Bousquet

ONCE again, Saint Lucians are being discouraged from voting on Election Day. It isn’t the first time, but the voices are sounding louder this time around — with added volume, thanks to the internet and the ICT revolution.

Last general elections, we heard shrill voices of wannabe lone wolves urging people to show how fed-up they are with our politics and politicians by staying home on Election Day. Last time around, they graduated to bumper stickers. Now they’ve resorted to hash tags — #NOVOTE, #DOHVOTE, #STAYHOME, etc

This is by no means the first (or second) time voters have been pushed to try to pass their frustrations on the ballot paper. Earlier, voters were actually encouraged to go to the polling station, take the long line and go into the voting booth, only to deliberately spoil the ballot. (Yes, that used to happen right here – and we wonder why there are so many spoilt ballots today?)

When voters found it was a pure waste of time taking time to take a long line just to spoil a ballot, the no-vote advocates changed tactics and asked people to simply stay home. The new argument is that by not voting they will be both protesting against the politics and politicians and also depriving either party of their ballot.

Invariably, those calling on people here not to vote and to stay home on Election Day have elected to remain faceless. They fund the bumper stickers and back the hash-tag campaigns, but you will hardly see or hear them show their faces or sound their voices in public. They never offer their own arguments, but cite the frustrations of the frustrated to make their case.

I read a story last week about a frustrated young Saint Lucian woman who says she will not vote this time around. She said she has voted before, but feels she wasted her vote each time. I read all she had to say about why she will not vote this time, but nothing she was quoted as saying can be entirely blamed on politicians and political parties.

The young lady could have got positive answers to her questions. She could have been made to understand that most of the problems she identified are way outside the hands of the individual politicians she voted for, or will vote for. She could have been told that no government can stop rape and that no government has found a magic formula for permanent, full employment. She could have been told that governments don’t set prices for school books. She sounds intelligent enough, as a mother, at age 29, to have understood that she cannot change the system by staying out of it, or away from it.

But obviously, she asked the wrong person.

Thing is, young voters like her have long had their beefs with the system. Nobody seemed ready to raise their flag or champion their cause back then. But with elections in the air, the likes of her become important. They become cannon fodder for those wishing to use their genuine frustrations to further their own private causes against politics.

Those who consider themselves above our politics will do anything to discourage us from thinking of what we can do to change the system. But in so doing, they are in fact encouraging the frustrated to swallow their frustrations and keep them (like on microwave or deep freeze) inside their stomachs.

Those being urged, encouraged and pushed not to vote must realize they are being asked to resign themselves into hopelessness and to leave the system to the same politicians they claim not to trust. Now, does that make sense? Something is troubling you and you are being advised to leave it alone and let it trouble you forever and ever, amen?

I think there is something more sinister than appears behind the NO VOTE campaign. But my feelings aside, I do not think anyone has (or should have) the right to openly and publicly encourage people who have made their minds up, not to vote. Nor do I think people who voted before and have now exercised their own individual right not to vote should have any right to openly, publicly and actively encourage anyone else to follow their example.

The fact is that all voters have a constitutional right to vote – and to be voted for. Everyone with a problem with the politics, the voting process, the election system, the candidates and their broken promises, each person fed-up with the system — also has a right to be voted for. They can even decide to form their own parties to challenge those they blame for keeping the system as it is. If they can muster enough support, they can even form a NO VOTE Party – and if they can get enough votes, they can also even win an election.

But even more seriously, I think that advocating against voting should be outlawed. I think telling people don’t vote should be a crime. No one has a right, in my book and in this day and age, to encourage any citizen not to make use of his or her constitutional right to vote on Election Day. No one has a right to push me to betray all those who struggled and fought so hard for our grandfathers and grandmothers to be able to vote for the first time, back in 1951. There are countries where people do not have a right to vote. There are millions of people in countries the world over, who wish they had the freedom or right to vote freely — or even to decide not to vote. In fact, there are countries where voting is compulsory. But we who have it want to waste it.

Finally, no one who decides to stay home on Election Day will have any right to complain about the elected government not taking care of them. But they will still have to pay taxes and live by the laws passed by the same politicians, pay the same prices in the same society and still have all their frustrations – and much more.

So, again I ask, does it make sense to stay home on Election Day?

If you don’t have the answer, ask yourself again!

5 Comments

  1. It is not only CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY of all CITIZENS-
    It is the NUCLEAR CORE (thinking along the thermo nuclear power of our solar star)
    Earl you are so RIGHT-
    A 21 naval volley salute to you sir.
    I hope some one in the US press serving large black communities (e.g., Amsterdam News of NY) would write a similar piece or purchase your piece for publication.
    Black apathy has grown steadily from the post Vietnam era -with minor resurgence in the Clinton-Obama years. Perhaps the uniqueness of madam Clinton will create a spike …..
    Again, thanks for your “national ” perspective.

  2. We shouldn’t be surprised if there are candidates in this election who have no clue of the history of the struggle for adult suffrage in Saint Lucia. It’possible too there are electors who know this history but who are not motivated to vote and those who don’t know the history but who have not and will not miss a vote.

    This begs the question: why is voting so important to some but not to others?

    Consistently now, more than 4 out of 10 people don’t vote in elections in Saint Lucia. Average turnout in the US between 2000 and 2012 hasn’t been that much better. The highest turnout they’ve mustered was 62.3 % in 2012. Even when Chile had compulsory voting, the highest turnout there was 87% in 2010. But when Chile moved to voluntary voting, turnout at the 2013 election dropped to about 42% of registered voters.

    The point here is that the problem is not unique to Saint Lucia. But to me there’s something intrinsically wrong with minorities choosing Governments. Nothing tangible has been done to reverse this growing trend. One doubts laws are the solution and neither does shaming.

    I would favor a combination of formal and informal education in our schools and communities on the importance of voting as a civic responsibility. The reintroduction of local government elections might also help to create some grass roots appreciation of the benefits of voting.

    It’s possible the problem is not the voter but the voting system.

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