The European elections will take place between May 22 and 25, the exact date being chosen by each member state, and past experience teaches us that the interest and turnout will unfortunately be low in most cases. Under these circumstances, I thought I’d briefly state my arguments in favor of voting, especially considering the fact that I already did so a fair number of times these days, while arguing against the campaign against casting a valid vote led by the United We Save movement and various other known activists over here in Romania. Please note that, while I can also advocate in favor of choosing the lesser evil if absolutely no other options exist, these arguments are mainly intended for those who feel they’re not represented by any of those who are likely to obtain any seats, but at the same time would have other options this time around, as in other parties or independent candidates taking part in the elections despite being highly unlikely to obtain the required number of votes for a seat.
I must begin by stating that voting is the first and the simplest way in which citizens can get involved in the decision-making process. Of course, it’s far from the only such method that exists, not to mention that some other ways which currently aren’t usually available should be, but this is the most basic and, in my opinion, the first that one needs to use before asking for others. I mean, why would a person who refuses to make this small effort, to accept this small responsibility, be offered the chance to take on a greater one and have more of a say in any major decision?
In addition, these elections are for the European Parliament, so different principles apply. They are less about the parties and candidates from your own country, less about any national or local issues, and more about the European parties that said parties or candidates are or may become members of, and about choosing the power balance between these parties that must represent over 500 million European citizens and make decisions on major issues that will affect the entire European Union. And, this time around, they’re also about choosing the next President of the European Commission, out of the five candidates.
On the other hand, the European elections are similar to any other elections in the sense that the seats that need to be filled will be filled according to the valid votes cast, as those are the only ones that matter and their total number is irrelevant. That won’t change even if everyone except the candidates themselves would refuse to vote or cast invalid votes, as in that scenario the number of seats obtained by each of the top parties will simply be proportional to the number of candidates on their lists. The turnout and the number of invalid votes are mere statistics that are quickly forgotten.
As such, and knowing that the electoral laws are usually aimed at keeping a few major parties in power, possibly by rotation, and limiting the potential impact of other voices as much as possible, not casting a valid vote is perhaps the best way to show that you support the current system. It means that you don’t necessarily care which major party ends up having the upper hand, but are willing to accept whatever outcome, believe that the system itself needs to remain as it is and do not think that smaller parties, independent candidates or regular citizens like yourself need to be given more of a voice.
It’s saddening and disheartening to see how well this system works when so many people who’re more informed and possibly also more rational than average, and therefore more difficult to manipulate and/or bribe, decide not to get involved in politics, starting by not voting. It’s even worse when many of those people are young and would tend to have different views anyway. Whenever this happens, it only makes it less likely that anything significant will change in the foreseeable future, and I can only imagine those who have every interest in keeping things as they are rubbing their hands and grinning from ear to ear because of it.
If you are unhappy with the current state of affairs, there are many things you can and should do in between elections, but once the campaign period starts the rules aren’t going to change anymore, so your only realistic option is to look through the list of parties and candidates and determine which ones may be different, which ones may also want to change the system, or at least which ones may bother those who want to keep things as they are the most. Then, on election day, the first thing you should do is vote for whichever one of them you find most acceptable, or least unacceptable, as the case may be. It’s not a problem if said party or independent candidate doesn’t stand the slightest chance; in fact, it’s preferable.
In order to decide who to vote for, you should ask yourself these questions:
1. Is there an option that I actually support and has some chances as well, therefore also representing a useful vote?
2. If not, is there any option that I support, even if it has no chances?
3. If not, is there any option that I may vote for in order to express a symbolic support for an ideology, even if not necessarily for the way in which the party or candidate in question currently understands to implement it? Note that, considering the specifics of the European elections, this is a particularly relevant and important question at the moment. In case of local or national elections, on the other hand, you may want to only consider those who shouldn’t have the slightest chance, in order to avoid voting in somebody likely to give the ideology you actually support a bad name.
4. If not, is there, among those with no chance of obtaining seats, any option that I don’t vehemently oppose, and which I may vote for simply in order to make it obvious that none of those who will end up being elected will represent me?
5. If not, which one of those that have decent chances is the lesser evil?
As I said in the first paragraph, I can and I will advocate in favor of going all the way down to this final question if no other options exist, even if simply because not doing so supports this rotten system itself even more. However, if you can find even the slightest reason to answer “yes” to the fourth or, especially considering the fact that we’re talking about European elections, third question, then you have all the more reason to make your choice and vote. I’m obviously not going to say much about the situation in which you have any reason to answer “yes” to any of the first two questions, since in that case you’re almost certainly already determined to vote anyway.
It also needs to be noted that the five European parties that have candidates for the position of President of the European Commission are the European People’s Party, Party of European Socialists, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, European Green Party and the Party of the European Left, and that the first three of those are the major parties at the European level, which can all be blamed for the situation we currently find ourselves in. Because of this, if you got all the way to question four on the above list and simply want to send a message to the European Parliament that you want things to change, the best way to do it is to vote for a party or independent candidate that is a member of one of the last two. If this option is not available to you, or if you can’t tolerate either ideology in the least, then you can of course start looking through the others, but always keep in mind that we’re talking about European elections, so consider the message your vote will send to the European Parliament and make sure you won’t accidentally support a group you’d actually want to oppose.
I will say again that what matters is to cast a valid vote and it is not a problem if it will appear lost, in the sense that it will not result in any seats for the party or independent candidate you voted for. In fact, if the message you mean to send is that the system itself needs changing, it’s actually better that way, because if a significant number of seats will be redistributed to parties which shouldn’t have actually obtained them, it will make it perfectly obvious, at a European level, that the current rules are unfair and undemocratic.
Those who do not cast valid votes do not matter and there is no way to actually know whether they even care, but those who do vote in favor of parties or independent candidates that will not obtain any seats, those who will find their support being forcefully transferred to those they specifically opposed, have every reason to complain and the hard data to back said complaints. A low turnout may not even be particularly noticed and an even higher than usual percentage of valid votes going towards the major parties will only strengthen their position, but seeing that the current rules help said major parties directly steal a significant number of seats that were rightfully earned by those who clearly oppose their policies and ideologies is an entirely different matter, so this is what you should be aiming for if you mean to turn election day into a protest against the current electoral laws.