Seeding the Revolution: Spoiling the Vote

Elections are coming.

They have to be. Constitutionally, they have to be held by the middle of this year. Between now and May, presumably, Bahamian voters will know which constituencies they reside in, who their candidates are, and what choices they will have at the polls this time.

In response to this knowledge, the talk everywhere has turned partisan. The PLP convention has sparked a flurry of discussion of all kinds. People who oppose the current government have seized convenient, if meaningless, talking points like “Where the VAT money gone?”, while people who support the government invoke track records and party stability.

The thing is, much of this discussion is moot. No matter how much we enjoy the trash talk, only a minority of us are set to influence the outcome of this next election. Voter registration has been remarkably slow so far. According to the latest announcements by the Parliamentary Registrar’s office, the number of registered voters still sits below 100,000—some 88,000 at time of writing, compared with around 125,000 in January 2012. Why this might be is a matter for another time. What concerns me at this moment is that voting for our MPs is the only way in which over 70% of the Bahamian population gets to participate directly in the democratic process. This year, about half of the eligible voters have decided to opt out of the process.

This is a red flag. It signals something fundamentally wrong with our democracy. It also opens the door for an increase in governmental abuses. The less involved in the democratic process the population becomes, the less accountable officials and politicians have to be. And as of this moment, no matter what the turnout, the next government will be elected by a minority of Bahamian citizens. Minority rule, welcome back home.

I’m going to propose that there is a possible solution. It’s not one that will change the outcome of the 2017 election in any appreciable way. At the moment, that outcome depends on which party is most successful in getting its base out to register and vote, a simple numbers game. But it can change the measure of accountability we can demand of our elected officials. And it may well impact elections in the future.

It’s this. Go and register. As Bahamian citizens we have that right, and it was fought for and won by people far more more determined and principled than we are today. And then, if you’re unhappy with the politicians or with the system or the country, don’t fall for the least-of-two-evils rhetoric; spoil your ballot.

I’ll say it again. Go register. Go vote. But spoil the ballot.

It’s easy to do. You can mark your X outside the box, or you can write something other than your X on the paper, or you can draw a picture, or you can vote for your mother, or you can vote for your dog, or for the man in the moon.

You’re probably asking now: what’s the point? The end result will be the same.

And I’ll say: Yes, and no.

You won’t change the outcome of this election if you register and spoil the ballot instead of sitting this one out. But you will send a message to whichever minority government is elected in May. And it’s this:

We are watching, we will hold you accountable. We reject the bad choices you gave us. Do better. 

Don’t think the strategists are not watching. They are paying very close attention. Voter apathy will send the message that Bahamians don’t care what they do. But a spoiled ballot, even if the counts are not released to the public, will tell a very different tale.

Give me another post, and I’ll explain why.

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