Bullets Bombs and Ballot Boxes

Electoral Turnout Graphic hdr

The cross on a ballot paper and binary coding are very similar. Both are small bits of information which when assimilated with other small bits of information create an outcome. Binary code can calculate the trajectory of a satellite. Crosses on a ballot paper can determine a political trajectory.

On 5th April 2014 the Afghanistan electorate went to the first in a series of polls to select a successor to the incumbent President Karzai. The voting took place against a backdrop of violence and intimidation. In February 2014, even before election posters had been put up, the aides of two leading contenders in the election were gunned down. On 10th March the Taliban issued a warning that anyone that went near a polling booth or attended political rallies were endangering themselves. On 26th March the Afghanistan Independent Electoral Commission office in Kabul was attacked by suicide bombers and gunmen. Seventy people were trapped in the building and only after security forces engaged the gunmen in a firefight did sixty seven people leave the building alive.

None of the other four elections used for a comparison of electoral turnouts took place against a backdrop of violence and intimidation as witnessed across Afghanistan during the election period. They took place in established democracies and where law and civil order prevail.

Figure 1 shows a series of split percentages  over the last five years of the electorates that did and did not vote, including a provisional turnout percentage for Afghanistan. Bearing in mind the violence and intimidation that took place leading up to Election Day, take a moment; in fact, take just as long as it would normally take to place a cross on a ballot paper and place it in a ballot box to decide which one represents voting in Afghanistan.

Electoral Turnout 1

Reasons for not voting in Britain in the 2001 General Election were:

  • I couldn’t get to the polling station because it was too inconvenient
  • I was away on Election Day
  • I am not interested in politics
  • Was too busy to vote
  • I didn’t like any of the candidates

(From an IPSOS MORI Poll published on 4th July 2001.)

In the 2012 US Presidential Elections a few of the reasons for not voting were:

  • Just too busy
  • No candidate is good enough
  • My one vote won’t make a difference

Nowhere in these surveys was there any comment within Western democracies about ‘I have been intimidated into not voting by a violent sectarian group’, or ‘there were armed gunmen outside the polling station’ or ‘there was a bomb exploded in the street near the polling station’ because they just do not happen in mature democratic societies such as ours.

Figure 2 shows the same data as Figure 1 with the additional information of which country it applies to.

Electoral Turnout2_edited-1


There might be a few surprised readers when the chart shows that

Afghanistan managed a 58% provisional turnout compared to 65.8% in the last UK General Election, 61.1% in Canada’s most recent Federal Election and 58.7 % in the 2012 US Presidential Election. The worst and most lamentable turnout of 34.5% was for the EU elections in Britain in 2009.

It may sound like a mythological cliché but people did die in various countries to secure our present levels of enfranchisement in the West.  Even after the American Civil War citizens who were given the right to vote in law to fulfil the basis of the Constitution that ‘all men are born equal’ faced lynch mobs and other forms of physical violence as they tried to enforce their rights.  In the early 20th Century in Britain suffragettes campaigned vigorously to secure the vote for women over thirty.  Nearly seventy years ago a world wide conflagration ended that prevented tyranny, dictatorship and disenfranchisement taking over Europe.  Yet, we still have vast numbers of the electorate who will not partake in the electoral process who seem to have forgotten the path of history that brings their polling cards through the letterbox.

What will be your excuse for not voting?




About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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