| 9.2°C Dublin


Call me old fashioned but I still get a thrill out of casting my vote

Ian O'Doherty


Close

Polling day: elections are the one time when politicians have to actually listen to what we’re saying

Polling day: elections are the one time when politicians have to actually listen to what we’re saying

Polling day: elections are the one time when politicians have to actually listen to what we’re saying

By the time you read this, I'll already be out of bed. Frankly, after years of getting up at stupid o'clock when I worked the early shift on a newsdesk, I now enjoy a lie in.

But today will be different. I'll be roused out of the pit early doors, bring the dogs for a nice long walk, have a relaxing breakfast and then toddle off to do one of my favourite things - voting at my nearest polling station.

We've all become rather cynical when it comes to modern politics, and there's no doubt that if there was an option on the ballot paper marked 'none of the above' then 'none of the above' would get enough support to go into a coalition.

But there is a big difference between the understandable weariness and disdain that many of us feel for our politicians and the actual democratic process itself.

My first vote was in 1990, when Mary Robinson stormed to presidential victory and changed the political landscape in this country forever.

I wouldn't be much of a fan of her these days, but I'll always cherish the feeling of being, for that memorable first time, old enough to go into a booth and cast my vote.

My father came with me, then brought me for a pint afterwards (another first) and clinked my glass, telling me that I was a now a man.

I was far from that, of course. But it felt like I had just gone through an important rite of passage and was now ready to engage with the country's future as a fully franchised adult. It remains a fond memory and was a great feeling at the time. And that feeling has never gone away.

I haven't missed a chance to vote since 1990. Whether it's local elections, presidential face-offs or general elections such as the one we witness today, I was brought up to respect the privilege.

What's more, I was taught to enjoy it in full appreciation of the fact that people are still fighting and dying around the world to achieve a basic right which so many of us take for granted; some of us don't even bother using it.

The old canard that there is no point in voting is exactly the kind of fatuous cynicism which has caused voter apathy all across the West, not just in Ireland.

But that attitude is an unforgivably lazy one, born of contempt and cowardice. Everyone's vote counts and if you don't believe me, look at the last US election, where some crucial swing districts were decided by a few hundred votes.

In his sci-fi classic Starship Troopers, the cranky author Robert A Heinlein declared: "When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you're using force. And force, my friends, is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived."

Like a lot of Heinlein's more controversial positions, he wasn't entirely right - but he wasn't entirely wrong, either.

I would argue that we vote precisely so we don't have to use force, but he was on to a hugely important point - this is the one time when politicians are afraid of us.

It's the one time when they have to actually listen to what we're saying and it's the one time when we get to sack the very people who too often lord it over the rest of us.

That's why it was so frustrating to see the incredibly low turnout at the by-elections in late 2019.

For example, Dublin Fingal achieved a record low of 25pc. Again, the apathy was understandable from a certain angle.

But it also meant that the 75pc who didn't bother had automatically lost their right to gripe about their local TD - and if there's one national sport that engages Irish people, it is surely having a good gripe about their local TD.

In many ways, the right to vote is a bit like the right to an education - I've been to countries where neither right is guaranteed and they are the two concepts which the local populations most deeply yearn for.

As it stands, I'm still not even entirely sure who will get my votes from second preferences down.

I do know who is getting my number 1 - she happens to be the least bad choice, but if people also want to congratulate me for helping to end gender bias by voting for females, please feel free - but I'll have spent most of last night poring over all the relevant manifestos like a gambler studying the racing form.

But while I feel voting is a personal and civic obligation, those who call for system of compulsory voting, such as they have in Australia, Belgium and 20 other nations, are utterly wrong.

After all, the best way to make people resistant to something is to force them to do it. The concept of compulsory voting flies in the face of a free society and is an unforgivable intrusion by the State into the privacy of the individual.

No, in an ideal world, voting is something we should love, even if we don't necessarily love or even like the people we're voting for.

It's a privilege denied to millions around the world, so don't miss your chance today.

If nothing else, you'll forfeit your right to publicly complain about whatever shower of wasters end up in power.

Why deny yourself that fun?

Indo Review