Your Vote Counts

One common refrain after the BNP made an appearance on Question Time last year was that if only more people went out and voted then right-wing extremists would not get elected. Of course that’s not the whole story but there’s some truth in that. Since we will have a General Election this time next week this becomes a very important point.

This got me thinking about my experience with the British electoral system. As far as I can remember, I’ve voted in every election that I have been eligible except for those when I have not been at home. In fact I was in California in this last election when Griffin was elected to the European parliament.

This time I did try to vote even though I would be away. They don’t make it easy.

There are two basic options. First is the postal vote. Sounds ideal, right? Just pop my vote in the post before I get on the plane and I’ve done my democratic duty.

Not quite.

Checking the small print I found that they mailed out the ballot forms a week before the election. Unfortunately I was out of the country for just over two weeks and the election was towards the end of my time away. Chances were good that I wouldn’t have got the form in time. And, of course, we all know how reliable the postal system has been recently. Even if I was home, would my vote get back to be counted on time? (This, I should add, is just be being cynical. The only reason I didn’t go down this route was because I wouldn’t have received the ballot in time.)

There is, however, an alternative. You can also send a proxy to vote on your behalf. Sounds simple, right?

Again, I wasn’t quite able to get it together in time. You have to nominate someone who is eligible to vote and who is not representing more than one other person. I seem to recall seeing that your proxy also had to be resident in the borough but I don’t see that in the current wording; I’m not sure if the law changed or I just misunderstood.

In any case, your proxy needs to vote in the same place that you would, which immediately limits your choices.

(One point that I missed last year is that your proxy can vote by post. Maybe that would have made things easier.)

And it goes without saying that you’d have to trust your proxy. You’re expecting someone to both actually turn up to vote and to put the cross in the correct box. I don’t know why, but this makes me a little uncomfortable. Maybe I should become a more trusting person, but there’s something about the idea of an anonymous vote that’s significant.

Just to be clear, I’m not sure what the alternative should be. The voting system needs to be simple, reliable and something that can be trusted.

But whatever the current system it’s still important to try to vote. It’s just much easier if you’re in the country on May 6th.