Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 4 May 2019

Whatever you do on 8 May, don’t not vote

Voting in this general election may seem like an exercise in futility, but that is the wrong attitude. Voting is the most fundamental expression of our democratic rights, and, at the very least, spoil your ballot paper rather than not vote at all.

There are clear and obvious decisions being taken by many to stay away from voting in the national elections on 8 May 2019, which appear to be driven largely by reasons of disillusionment in the outcomes of our current political system; or the abuse of political authority; or of insufficient resonance with a myriad of political party offerings.

While we have the right to abstain from voting in South Africa, I would argue that “not voting” is the wrong way to express dissent when it comes to the performance of politics in SA. Instead, take the time to search for a party that best aligns with your values, or use it strategically to reduce party political dominance and promote coalition governance. Whatever you do, don’t stay away.

When one considers all that has gone before to achieve our hard-won freedom of which we are all part – be it before or after one’s birth – voting in the elections is the most significant of all public participation processes that determine how our country is run.

A decision not to vote because of insufficient resonance with any political party or because you believe your vote will not change matters, is a weak excuse and quite frankly removes you from the right to complain when Government fails you. By not voting, you accept the status quo and signal that you are happy with our politics and government performance.

A decline in voter turn-out is regarded as growth in voter apathy. So if you really can’t choose a party, do yourself and this country a favour and at least rock up at the polling station and spoil your vote. A spoilt vote at least says “I didn’t stay away”. It says “I took the time and effort to go to the polling stations and cast my non-vote as a message of disapproval in the system.”

A ballot paper is regarded as a spoilt vote if it has anything more than one cross alongside one party, or if the vote counters and monitors are unable to determine with certainty that the vote was clearly cast for one party. A line across the page is a spoilt vote. A descriptive note on the ballot paper is also a spoilt vote.

The table below shows the history of voter turn-out and spoilt papers in the past three South African national elections. While the spoilt vote has been pretty consistent, ranging between 1,34% and 1,58% since 2004, there was a 4% decline in the voter turn-out between 2009 (77,3%) and 2014 (73,5%). If this was due to dissension in the system, the politicians will simply put that decline down to voter apathy. However, if that 4% did turn up and spoilt their ballot papers, a 5% to 6% number of spoilt votes would equate to around a million votes – assuming a 75% voter turn-out of the 26.7-million registered voters – and would be too big to ignore.

Personally, I cherish the hard-won right for all South Africans to vote and have voted at every opportunity availed to me, and never once have I spoilt my vote, nor do I ever intend to do so.

My message however to those who are fortunate enough to be one of the 26.7-million citizens registered to vote and who have chosen not to vote for whatever reason, the least you can do is make the effort and spoil your vote. DM

Gallery

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