It’s election day!
Considering that this is the second Assembly election in under a year, it’s understandable that people will find it harder to get excited about this than they may have done before now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less important to get out and use your vote.
Before Christmas, no one saw this election coming as quickly and as decisively as it has now come around, but we find ourselves today being asked to once again make a decision about the future of the north.
At the last Assembly election, around 45% of eligible voters didn’t turn out an polling day. This means that almost half of the decision makers didn’t use their voice that day. We can’t say what it is half of the population wants for the future of the north. If people decline to use their vote, that means that decisions are made without their input, by people who are unconcerned what their opinions are because they don’t worry what their reaction will be. It sounds blunt, but politicians always have an eye on the next election and how they will fair in the polls. If you’re not part of that, they won’t make you a priority – it’s really as simple as that.
This election is important. All elections are important. They are the clearest way that people can show what it is they feel that society should become in the years in front of us. It wasn’t until 1918 that women had the right to vote in Ireland, and even then there were restrictions based on age and property ownership. The struggle for women suffrage was hard fought and a long time coming. The subsequent struggle for one man, one vote in the north in the 1960s is a vivid reminder that we should never take our vote for granted, whatever our political standpoint may be. The fact that others fought so hard to ensure that we had the privilege of casting a vote and having a say in the democratic discourse teaches us that we should respect this right and treat it accordingly.
I strongly believe that casting a vote should be the beginning of a citizen’s engagement with the democratic process and not the pinnacle of it. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve been in touch with elected representatives about different issues and have always found that they respond quickly and decisively to constituents raising concerns with the, For everything from poor roads and street lights, to Irish language issues, I’ve found that the more I lift the phone to talk to the people who are elected to represent my interests, the more that I’m listened to by those who have the power to make changes.
There is, of course, the argument that one vote could ever make a difference. The voting patterns in this part of the world are so well-established that if you’ve never previously engaged that really there’s no need to do so now. For anyone thinking along these lines, it’s important to remember the 2010 Westminster election when Michelle Gildernew retained her Fermanagh South Tyrone seat by only four votes between herself and the unionist unity candidate, Rodney McClure. The proportional representation system used for Assembly elections is a little more complicated to be fair, but this example shows that every vote is important.
There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a difficult few weeks following the election while negotiations are underway as to whether or not there will be a new Executive and what form that Executive will take. This makes it so important that people have their voices heard loud and clear tomorrow. The people deciding how the next Executive should be formed should be those who represent the views and interests of the people of the north, which hasn’t always been the case here. Tomorrow’s election is important, and the following weeks are just as important in showing those who will be elected what is important and why to ensure that they set their priorities accordingly.
And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will…