Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Could the best way of making your vote count be by not voting?

There are plenty of ways not to vote in an election. They include, among others, old-fashioned abstention, organized boycotts, legal postponement, a show of ripping up ballots, defacing of ballots in the booth, intentionally invalidating the ballot (such as voting for two candidates for the same office), or sabotaging the process with violence, as teachers in Guerrero are threatening to do.
    Most have been proposed for the June 7 mid-terms in Mexico.
    Of course, a self-important clique of don’t-voters makes itself heard in every election, everywhere. At heart, their appeal is mostly to sloth and fatalism, even more to their own egos, but also for some true believers to a conviction that voting is either pointless (“they’re all the same”) or counter-productive (“it delays real change”).
    After they fail to convert anyone, they slink back into their hole when the polls close.
    This time around, a small chance exists that a significant number of people across the ideological and socioeconomic spectra could be convinced to use the elections to register a protest rather than choose new legislators and a handful of governors.
    The reasons for this window of opportunity are well known — the general ungovernability of the nation as a whole, the close links between organized crime and authorities at all levels and in all regions, the oppressive atmosphere that unchecked violence imposes on even the unharmed, the ignored national shame of unmitigated poverty and inequality, and the gelling conviction that the political class — the ones we’re being asked to choose among — are either incapable of or uninterested in doing something about any of these things.
    Even that noxious list of indictments might motivate voting rather than discourage it. Why not send a message by sweeping the non-performing bastards out of office?
    Because in Mexico today, that’s not seen as an option. The bastards aren’t bastards because they’re in office. They’re bastards because they’re in political parties. As their replacements will be.
    Despite formidable competition, no institution is respected less these days than the parties — all of them. Corruption and careerism aren’t so much problems for the parties as descriptions of them. Thus a vote for a decent, competent candidate (they do exist) is in reality a vote for that candidate's party, and the decency is subsumed into the dreck.
    Which is why the idea of a protest vote has more appeal than usual so far this year. The total collapse of party integrity may be the tipping point for the viability of a vote protest. It’s more tempting than before to see a non-vote as the clearest way to send a message — a demand, really — to the political class to clean up the mess, now.
    For anything to come out of it there will have to emerge an organized movement with broad appeal. More likely is a loose movement with narrow appeal — one that, for example, makes it clear that if you don't oppose the energy and telecommunications reforms, you’re not welcome.
    Agreement must exist on the nature of the protest. Should it be negative, such as a boycott? Or positive, like an intentionally annulled ballot, roughly equivalent to a none-of-the-above vote?
    The movement organizers, should they exist, will need to find a convincing way to distance themselves from the thugs in Guerrero. Can they? Will they even want to?
    And what’s the tipping point? How much of a total non-vote is enough to make anything happen?
    These are the kinds of things that will have to be batted around and resolved soon. It may all be for naught, but the discussion at least adds a savory new element to the proceedings.

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