Comment: “I don’t want to waste my vote”. “Don’t Waste your vote by supporting that party”. This concept of ‘wasted’ vote or wasting one’s vote is a peculiar term that Indians use during elections. I have heard this term used within my house and as far away as Arunachal Pradesh, on TV news channels and by trolls on internet. Can one really waste his/ her vote? Why do people feel that they can potentially waste their vote? This whole concept is irrational, alien and sometimes funny to me. It has no logical basis but still the term is widely used. But the malady inflicts the masses so much that the political parties want to ban opinion polls because they believe it might influence voting behavior; in other words people who don’t want to “waste” their votes might vote for the winner mentioned in the opinion poll ( thereby prove the opinion poll ipso facto).
One Arunachalee tried to explain it to me as follows “Look if I vote for a person, and if that person does not win, then my vote goes waste”. I retorted “But if you vote for the candidate who would have won, then also you are wasting your vote, he would have won anyway regardless of whether you vote for or against him”. The guy got unsettled, confused but replied with a hesitant voice “but I can’t tell to my friends and relatives”. At this my mind was furiously thinking “Half of India’s children are mal nourished, politician’s are looting the country in crores, environment is destroyed, climate change is upon us, women can’t walk out alone in night , water is not safe to drink and this guy was worried about bragging rights after the counting is done? You must be kidding me” . I could imagine Seinfeld or Jon Stewart concluding a joke with “and this guy really believes he will get a “Voted for 2014 election Champions” T-shirt which he can proudly wear after the election”.
I am fascinated by this desire to be on the winning side. After all we don’t expect Indians to support the Sri Lanka team in the T20 final because of their odds of winning. I think even the Gods were so much worried by this desire they explicitly advised us in Gita “Do your action (vote) without any desire for the fruits of your action (wining)”. Is it because we lose so many battles every day, suffering the system, being unable to do anything that even a minuscule thing like this becomes important? Same goes for BJP trolls who leave comments like “ Narendra Modi will be PM. AAP-tards don’t waste your vote”. If Modi is going to win and there is a Modi wave, why are you wasting your time advising me not to waste my vote, you should be celebrating!!! So in order to explain to my fellow Indians that no vote is wasted, that the concept is myth, I have come up with following rankings for “Wasted Vote”.
1st Rank- Not Voting
In a medical text while comparing light/low tar /low nicotine cigarette with regular ones, the author concludes “The safest cigarette in the world is still the unsmoked one”. If I may borrow this I would say the most wasted and the truly wasted vote in the world is the uncast vote. Why is it a wasted vote? Because by not participating, you are giving up your vote cheaply without a fight. You don’t get a say. No I won’t buy “all politicians are corrupt, my vote won’t matter, it won’t change the system, there is no choice etc.“ argument. No you can’t be aloof, as Howard Zinn famously said “You can’t be neutral on a moving train”. And with the NOTA (None of the Above) option given to Indian voters, there is absolutely no excuse for not getting your sorry ass to the polling booth. So this is the only genuine wasted vote. Others are relative.
2nd Rank- Voting to a candidate because he has higher chances of winning
You like what candidate B has to offer, you don’t like candidate A at all but opinion poll, your friends and your gut feeling tells you that Candidate A has higher chances of winning. So you vote for A for this. Why is it a wasted vote? Because by voting for Candidate A you will increase his chances of winning. Also the mere fact that Candidate A wins will not help your cause a bit. In fact you will hurt the issues and causes that you believe in. We all know India loses cricket matches. When it loses would you like it to lose by a close margin, last over thriller or by a wide margin without putting up any fight? I want them to fight till the last ball even if it’s a lost cause.
In the same way if Candidate B loses by a wide margin of votes, then he gets discouraged and won’t contest the next election. People who want to enter politics, will also distance themselves from the stand taken by Candidate B because they feel it won’t win elections for them. They will try to ape Candidate A or try to beat him on his turf rather than yours. But what if Candidate B loses by a close margin, now Candidate A cannot neglect the issues put forth by Candidate B. He knows he was lucky to scrape and win this time. So for next elections he will try to get the supporters of B to vote for him by trying implement some of the policies of B. In the least he won’t try to anger the supporters of B by taking negative policies against issues represented by B. So even though your candidate did not win, you advocated for policies represented by him and strengthened the cause. Next election who knows- the key is to view it has a repeated zero sum game where strategy evolves over time rather than a one off world cup final.
3rd Rank- Voting for an undesirable candidate X in order for A to be PM or Party 1 to win
Candidate X is undesirable; he may be corrupt or have criminal cases against him or has not done any work in your constituency for past 10 years. But you like the values of Party 1 and believe A will be an able PM who can lead the country. Should you vote for X so that A can be PM? I will say no, you should not vote for X unless you want to be an altruistic stupid martyr. First of all, even if A becomes PM and takes the country to higher heights your constituency will be left behind because X will act as a corrupt filter and your house will be unsafe because the power of criminal X increases. It won’t act as an incentive for X to be more effective, to deliver governance etc; he will simply print posters of himself and A together to get votes and not do any work. In addition it will encourage others in the party to become corrupt and criminal because they know as long as A is PM people will vote for us.
But the most basic reason is, if a supposedly able leader A (and Party 1) who wants to be PM gives ticket to a undesirable candidate X, it means (1) he is not as able as you think he is (2) he does not care shit about what happens to you- so you also don’t care about A. Be a bit selfish. Think about your local issues. If your problem is Cauvery water don’t vote for Clean Ganga Project. Let the people who live near Ganga worry about that. If everyone thinks what is better locally then the country will be better off nationally. Don’t believe me? That’s how Adam Smith invisible hand and free markets work. Also if you vote for Candidate Y and A is not elected PM, it will act as an incentive for A to clean up Party 1 from corrupt and criminal people and give tickets to desirable candidates in next election. Always remember that your vote is a vote in short term but a signal in long term.
4th Rank- Voting for A because he or his leader belongs to a particular caste/religion/community –in certain situations
If you, like me, belong to a privileged, upper/majority caste, middle class, educated, employed category, you have absolutely no right to play the caste/religion card. As George Carlin says “White people have no business playing the blues …ever…. at all ….under any circumstances”. So unless you are from a marginalized community living in an area where caste is a survival issue (life or death) or a livelihood (employed or not) issue, you should not use this argument. If you are educated and use your caste, then you are not “educated”. If you are employed and use caste to protect your job in future, then you should not be employed. If you want to use your vote to advance the interests of one community rather the country then you should not be allowed to vote. Remember British ruled us by divide and rule policy and brown skinned inept leaders have followed the same policy to stay in power. And don’t give me the biased almost racist argument that people in slums and villages vote on caste lines; that’s stereotyping , there is no empirical evidence they do that. They vote in a far more nuanced way making a number of fairly sophisticated mental trade-offs. Vote Bank might have been relevant in past elections, more and more people vote on basis of situational solidarities. Vote for person who thinks about welfare of all people rather than one who caters to a niche.
5th Rank- Voting for B even though you like A to prevent C from winning
This is termed as strategic voting. The basic situation is as follows: you don’t want C to win. You really really like A but if you vote for A, it might split anti C votes between A and B and the chances of C winning increases. You don’t trust B but since you hate C more than you trust B and your love for A is irrelevant , you have to decide to use your vote as a negative weapon against C by voting B. This argument is so flawed, I don’t know where to begin. First of all it’s a “FAIR GAME”. If B cannot win with A and C in contest, then B does not deserve to win. B has no right to claim the “it will split votes and elect C” argument because the door swings both ways. Even A can argue that voting for B will split votes and elect C. In London Olympics, eight badminton players were disqualified for not using their best effort in order to manipulate the draw for knockout stage.
Why? It was strategic no doubt but it was also against the spirit of the game and sportsmanship. In the same way if you do strategic voting it is against the spirit of democracy and citizenship. Ask yourself “Would you rather vote for what you want and not get it then vote for what you don’t want and get it”. If A does not get sufficient votes then you create an incentive for C and B to collude and prevent third parties from coming up in future. Look at America, there is no option for a Green party and democrats and republicans are acting similarly and have become indistinguishable over the years. There is constant grid lock. If C indeed gets elected then it sends a signal to both B and A to resolve their differences and come up with a common strategy to defeat C or A and B will change their policies to attract the voters from other side, so your causes gets noticed even though C is in power. Moreover if equal number of strategic votes change from B to A & from A to B, then you won’t achieve your objective.
If you really want to hedge your bets, then mathematical analysis is so convoluted that it requires its own article and is nearly impossible to predict. Basically you have to know (1) voter turnout in last election (2) vote share of candidates B and C (3) whether C won by low margin or high margin (4) expected increase or decrease in voter turnout in this election and how they would vote or had voted (5) expected number of anti C votes who will change allegiance from C to B (6) voters who change from B to C, B to A and C to A. Then you have to calculate whether the anti C votes are sufficient to make C lose the election without A in picture, then you have calculate the chances of C getting elected with different levels of split between B and A. You have to know how the new voters, the increased turnout, those who voted last time and are not voting this time etc etc. So if you haven’t done this exercise, I won’t buy your argument. The very fact that B is resorting to fear tactics and scare mongering about splitting votes instead of genuinely debating issues indicates that A can advance his cause either by winning outright or by spoiling B’s chances and thereby gaining political capital. It is better to vote for A and take your chances than to vote for B and remove all doubt.
So in conclusion, I believe that the only wasted vote is the uncast vote. The others votes are intentionally wasted in the pursuit of unrealistic or unwanted goals or irrelevant objectives like caste, PM candidate etc. Vote for a candidate or a cause you believe in. Your vote does not invalidate your or anybody else’s vote. The very fact that you want to avoid wasting your vote will ensure that you have indeed wasted your vote. It’s like in order to avoid getting bowled out you commit hit wicket and lose your wicket anyway. Don’t even think about wasting vote when you decide whom to vote. Remember your vote in short term may appear to have failed but it sends a signal to the community at large on what you want and the direction in which you want to take the country .
By Manjunath Shankar