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All votes are created equal

But are some votes more equal than others?

With the upcoming Australian Federal election on May 21, I’m sure people have seen enough ads and news about it they’ve become more fatigued to it than Covid. However, I thought I’d throw my own political spin on a few related topics that might stimulate far more interesting conversation.

There is a significant portion of this country who can’t be arsed voting and if they could, would not vote. Which brings me to the topic of compulsory vs optional voting for citizens. Here in Australia voting is mandatory for those aged 18 and over and you are fined for not voting whereas in countries like America it is voluntary. Now, this post is too short to go through the pros and cons of both sides, but it’s funny how both countries are democracies. What is the most democratic way or the true democracy? Both give the right to vote, but one makes it mandatory and the other leaves it to the individual to exercise the right whether they want to vote or not.

Think of it like this, one way “forces” people to take interest in the governing of their society and outsources the understanding of it and the other way allows for the uninterested and uninformed to not care (or is it that the interested and invested to take advantage?). Misinformed and uninformed voters and voting have plagued societies across time, but it’s not always easy to be properly informed. We certainly have more of a problem now with misinformation than being uniformed.

Which segues nicely into my next point on the duty of an informed citizen. I talked previously about the duty of an informed citizen in my “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” post, and it’s relevant again here. To the extent that you are a part of a society, you contribute to it and receive from it, you are invested in its future (success), then you need to play your part in putting people in power that will enact that vision.

“Do we get the politicians we deserve?”

“Just how much are you willing to tolerate from your politicians?”

I suppose the next question to ask is where does the media and their responsibility fit in with all this? You could ask the same questions above of the media as you do of the politicians. Ideally, the media should reliably inform the population of the ongoings of said government. I mean this is what the freedom of speech argument is primarily for, governments should not be able to shut down media critical of their governing, that’s why we have freedom of press. However, we have problems of media-government collusion which resemble a well-used Star Wars meme about joining Siths rather than destroying them.

Democracy is flawed, but it’s the best we have developed so far, where the individual is sovereign and has agency. It’s important to be aware of creeping elements of authoritarianism especially under the guise of “safety”, “protection” and “security”, as I don’t think people realise that a lot of what they take for granted requires people to continually fight for them.

No discussion around the value and equality of voting is complete without a mention of gerrymandering and the electoral college system in the US – because the feeling of your vote not carrying the same weight in the election as someone else’s is likely to increase the lack of interest and care in the average voter. Thankfully we don’t really have this problem in Australia as our Electoral Commission tries to make sure that every seat has the same number of people, but it’s not an exact science. As a result, populations and their shifts can alter the value of each vote, as can our constitution which keeps certain states and territories with certain numbers of representatives regardless of population.

“There were times when people couldn’t vote (or their vote didn’t matter), now people can vote but couldn’t care less – both make me sad.”

Two great texts which incorporate an exploration into the nature of human beings and the search for a perfect society are Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia. While Plato’s Republic is remarkable, both the book and the ideal society, sadly I don’t think the idea of the “Philosopher Ruler” is ever going to take off, evidently – which is unfortunate for people like me.

So, what is the purpose of voting – it is an ethical pickle, a moral dilemma. What it means is nestled within the duty of the informed citizen. What it means is that you are valued as an individual member of society and that your actions matter. It’s a symbol of the autonomy and agency of the individual to have some level of control over the people who are chosen to govern the society to which they inhabit. To do what is in your best interest, that of your family and the people around you and the community more broadly. To improve the standard of living and lessen the suffering of humanity.

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James Foster
James Foster
May 26, 2022
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