I've been thinking about this commentary by "Simon" of Bahama Pundit (and the Nassau Guardian):
To refuse to vote is a decision. It shows a level of disdain and contempt for our democratic system. There is certain arrogance to those who feel that voting is beneath them and that they won’t participate in electing “those politicians” (who, incidentally, are our fellow citizens).
Voting is not fundamentally about politicians. It is about the citizenry choosing their elected representatives and holding them accountable. Democracy, like the human condition is imperfect, requiring constant improvement and renewal. The alternative is a system of anarchy.
There is also an immaturity to those who refuse to help choose the nation’s elected representatives and refuse also to participate in governance. Still, they expect someone else to make the tough decisions on everything from crime to the economy to education.
Often, these same individuals have much to say on issues of public policy though they refuse to vote or become involved in governance. There is a level of hypocrisy by those who sit on their high horses complaining about the politicians while refusing to participate.
A refusal to exercise one’s right to vote is a dereliction of a basic right for which many have fought and died, and for which many are still struggling. For the progeny of slaves it is a sort of disregard and dishonouring of the struggles of those ancestors who for generations fought for basic freedoms, including in The Bahamas for majority rule.
Those who refuse to exercise their right to vote for cavalier and unreflective reasons, do a disservice to the witness of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bahamian men and women freedom fighters, and protestors around the world today for whom the right to vote is a democratic gift not to be taken lightly nor for granted.
In many—many—respects I agree with him. The right to vote is more than an entitlement; in any democratic society, is a responsibility, the major responsibility perhaps, of citizens in democratic societies. Simon's right to shift the point from the politician to the citizen, and is also right to remind his readers about the cost of democracy, and to remind us all not to take it for granted. But there is a whole lot more to it than that, in my opinion.
For I have a problem with this idea that the responsibility in any democratic society is one-way, that it adheres to the citizen only, and that the politician is exempt. Because while I agree wholeheartedly that one has a duty to register and even tend to agree that one should turn out to vote, I balk at the idea that my vote must be constrained by the choices offered to me by people who, it seems, more often than not, have very limited imaginations about the potential of this nation, who indeed have very limited comprehension of statehood at all, and who are really put in place because they bowed down and said the right things to the right political overlord. Even in the most informal cases, a person has the right to abstain when the time comes to vote, and that abstention is counted; it is, in effect, an anti-vote, a rejection of the choices placed before one, or of the lack of choice imposed on the voter by political machineries that are fundamentally antidemocratic at their very core. What, after all, is democratic about a system in which representatives are chosen in the wake of an unholy alliance between a set of individuals entrenched in a political game and the super-partisan delegates whose job it is to choose and/or ratify candidates? When does the ordinary citizen, who is faceless and nameless and often even party-less, get to have some say in who will sit in Parliament on her behalf?
So while I agree with the duty of every citizen to participate in this most fundamental of democratic rights and responsibilities, and while I think that Australia is on to a good thing—every citizen is obliged to vote by law—I resist entirely this idea that the politician has no responsibility to the citizens or to the state that they govern. I especially resist it in our Bahamaland, where local government is another word for more direct taxation and where there is no such thing for the over two-thirds of the population who reside in the city of Nassau. There is nothing democratic about the shifting around of constituency boundaries by that parliamentary joke called the "Boundaries Commission" and there is nothing democratic about the musical chairs being played by the three political parties in scrambling to find candidates who, by some strategic algorithm, are best poised to win within some made-up geographical area. And so I reserve the right, having registered and planning fully to turn out to vote, to make my displeasure known at the polls if (or when) the three parties who are scrambling for power do not show me enough respect to offer for office an individual for whom I can vote without feeling that the choice is one among many evils.
In short, I believe in the citizen's duty to vote. But it doesn't stop there. I believe as much, perhaps more, in the politicians' duty to govern. And until I am confident that they think as much of this nation as I do, I reserve the right to choose no one to represent me at all.