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There are no wasted votes

May 14, 2017 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Kenyans are notorious for voting in herds.

We get stampeded like cattle towards the candidate of the moment, the one that is likely to win. For national posts we get swayed by tribal overlords who tell us it is our duty to support ‘our candidate’ against ‘theirs.’ For local elections we wait to see which candidate will get a buzz going and who will win the favour of most people – and we happily follow suit.

Partly that is just the nature of the average human; the need to belong to and be accepted by the group we regard as ‘ours.’ But there is something more insidious at work here. That is the the idea of the ‘wasted vote.’

I hear many people say it out loud: there is no point in voting for independents, interesting outsiders or mavericks – because they have no chance of winning. There is no use in voting on merit if the majority of the electorate does not see the merit that you see. Your supposedly meritorious candidate will bite the dust, and then what will you have achieved?

It is far better, in this way of thinking, to vote for the popular candidate you detest than the unpopular one that you actually like. If an election is a two-way battle, you should vote for one of the top two contenders, not for an outsider. That way your vote has a chance of ‘counting.’

This is why in pretty much every election a handful of decent, interesting, innovative, right-minded people prepare themselves to stand for office. And in pretty much every election they get trounced, coming home last, getting fewer votes than even pimps and conmen do.

Pray tell: who told you that your democratic duty is to try to pick the winner? This is not a horse race where you choose the animal most likely to win a bet for you. Your job is to vote for the person you prefer most, the one you think will do the best job for the people. Whether the rest of the voters also think so is not your problem. You should vote for the one that resonates with you. The consolidated preference of the majority will be revealed in the result.

Why would you want to vote for a ‘winner’ anyway, even if you think that candidate is exactly the wrong choice? You would only do this out of rank selfishness, because you expect personal gain to be sent your way by the poll winner. Here’s some news: nothing good will be done for you. Zilch. You will be used and tossed aside. Only the insiders and cronies will reap from the bad winner’s victory. The average voter will still languish in poverty. Belatedly, your region may receive some tarmacking of roads or a clinic or two. Any benefit from that will be more than negated by having scoundrels and wastrels in office; the economic growth that could have happened is killed by bad choices.

If you vote on merit and on principle, you are making an important point. You are stating your belief in a type of character, and on a manifesto of measures that you think will improve your life. True enough: in a corrupt and twisted system like ours, your glowing candidate is unlikely to win outright. But so what? If good candidates get a surprisingly large number of votes, they get the courage to fight again, even if they don’t win. They gain influence over the policy-making to come. Good ideas get a voice, and pressure is put on those who stand for the bad ones.

In time, the ‘failed’ candidates – or their successors – can build on their past votes and come through and actually take the post.

If you are only ever going to vote for people likely to win, you are never going to get any meaningful change. Every campaign platform will be the usual farrago of populist fantasy. Those with the money to put up the most billboards and sponsor the most celebrity appearances and dish out the most t-shirts will rock the election, every time. And so you will keep voting for incompetence, delusion and corruption. And you will deserve the consequences.

Think. In whom can you actually believe? Who has the character to resist the temptations of plunder when put in charge of the public purse? Who has the brains to connect the dots of policy? Who has the heart that feels the pain of the people? If you can find them, those are things worth voting for.

(Sunday Nation, 14 May 2017)

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