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A call for civic responsibility: the power and perils of protest voting and non-voting

Merwil Urena

Staff Writer


In a democratic society, the act of voting is often regarded as a cornerstone of civic engagement, a fundamental way for individuals to have their voices heard and shape the future of their nation. Yet, in recent years, we have witnessed a growing phenomenon that challenges this sacred civic duty. Some view these acts as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo, while others argue that they pose a serious threat to the very foundations of democracy.


Protest voting, in its various forms, typically involves casting a vote for a candidate or party with no realistic chance of winning, often as a protest against the perceived failures or corruption of mainstream political options. Non-voting, on the other hand, entails abstaining from the electoral process altogether, either as a form of protest or due to disillusionment with the system.

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At first glance, protest voting and non-voting may seem like ways for citizens to express their discontent with the political establishment. However, the consequences of these actions extend beyond mere symbolic gestures. They can have a significant impact on the outcome of elections, which in turn affects public policy, governance, and the overall well-being of a nation.


An immediate consequence of protest voting is the potential for vote splitting. Elections where a significant portion of the electorate decides to vote for third-party candidates or write-ins as a form of protest can fragment the vote and indirectly benefit the major party that is ideologically closest to their views. This was evident in the 2016 United States presidential election when some voters opted for third-party candidates, arguably contributing to the victory of a candidate they may have disagreed with more strongly.


Non-voting, while different in nature, also poses a challenge to democracy. A low voter turnout can lead to the election of representatives who do not accurately reflect the will of the entire electorate, potentially resulting in policies that do not align with the majority's interests. Furthermore, it can discourage politicians from appealing to a broader spectrum of the population and instead cater to their base, exacerbating political polarization.


One may argue that protest voting and non-voting are valid ways for citizens to signal their dissatisfaction with a broken system. Although this sentiment is understandable, it is crucial to recognize that these actions often allow the most motivated and ideologically extreme factions to have a disproportionate influence on the political landscape. When moderate, pragmatic voices are drowned out by the fervor of protest voters or the apathy of non-voters, the political discourse becomes increasingly polarized, making it difficult to find common ground and enact effective policies.


So, what can be done to address the concerns that lead people to protest vote or abstain from voting? By enacting electoral reforms that promote more inclusive and representative systems can help mitigate the feeling of being stuck with limited choices. Ranked-choice voting, proportional representation and open primaries are some of the mechanisms that can encourage a broader range of candidates and parties, providing voters with more meaningful choices.


Rather than opting for these actions that can inadvertently harm the very ideals they seek to uphold, citizens should consider alternative avenues for change. Only by doing so can we build a more inclusive, responsive and effective democracy that truly represents the will of the people.


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