Voting is a Choice, Not a Duty

Voting is not an obligation – the right to vote has always been about the right to choose.

By Seth Meyer

Election season has arrived in South Africa. Along with the usual manifesto launches, promises to make everything better, and endless array of campaign posters festooning the streets, the well-worn debate of whom to vote for has been making the rounds in conversations and on social media. The arguments vary, much like the options. Well over 300 parties are contesting in this year’s election, which means that even the most diligent of voters would be hard pressed to form an opinion on every single one of them. Some of us find that such an effort is pointless anyway.

Voter apathy is strong in local elections, especially amongst young people. In my own circles, I’ve heard the same concerns or dismissals, mostly a mix of “I don’t know who to vote for” and “I don’t really care”. In a follow-up to this question, of whom to vote for or why, is the dilemma of whether one is obliged to do so because of the nature of our history as an electorate. The right to vote, while undeniably a right, is still in some ways a privilege afforded to the generation of “born-frees”, like myself, who have now grown up into an inheritance of the role of the voter. For the majority of South African citizens, this right was never a given. It was denied for generations, and hard-won over generations. So, are we undermining our young democracy when we don’t bother to exercise a right that lies at the basic premise of that democracy, a right that so many did not enjoy?

Here’s a strong but perhaps not uncommon opinion: there aren’t really any good choices, in terms of political parties. They will all disappoint abysmally, in some way or another. But, are we supposed to, despite our aversions, pinch our nose and choose between the shiniest of two turds? … Actually, no. The right to vote has always been about the right to choose. It is doubly a choice to participate and a choice in who we vote for. The onus of direction on us as a younger generation. Many of our parents and grandparents had no say before 1994 in any direction whatsoever. Today, we do. So, if you are passionate about exercising that hard-won right, if you believe in a path that leads towards something better (and please, let the rest of us know, because things can seem pretty bleak these days), then go out on the 1st of November and make a mark for what you think is best. Or you could just sleep in. It’s your right to choose.

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