In Australia we often hear about the political disenfranchisement of the Australian Aboriginals. For various reasons (racial, geographic, educational, legal etc.), Australian Aboriginals have long been the butt of discriminatory voter regulations and conditions, and have basked in the government neglect that inevitably arises from lack of political power. However, there are another group of disenfranchised Australians that are rarely seen or heard from: the Australians that live in what are deemed to be “safe” seats.
Of course, “safe seats” and their various derivations exist wherever democracy exists. For example, thanks to the Electoral College and the prevalence of partisanship, this year’s US Presidential election will be contested in only eight or nine states. Populous and economically important states like California, New York and Texas will be all but avoided, as their outcomes are all but pre determined. But what does this do to the inhabitants of these places? How do they feel?
I think I am qualified to answer this question. Why? Because I live in the Australian Federal electoral division of Bradfield. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), since its creation in 1949 the seat of Bradfield has only ever been held by a member of the Liberal Party. Results from the latest election (held in 2010) show that Liberal Party member Paul Fletcher won the seat with 64.4% of the vote (his closest runner up only managed an abysmal 19.2%). What’s more, Paul Fletcher’s own website proudly boasts that Bradfield is “…the safest Coalition seat in metropolitan Australia and the sixth-safest Coalition seat overall.” In other words, Bradfield is the epitome of safe seats.
So, how does this make me feel? Well, I feel cheated. I don’t feel like I am part of a democracy. I don’t feel like I am being represented. Due to the quirk of history that resulted in my living in Bradfield I have effectively been shut out of the democratic process. If I vote for the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party will win. If I vote for another party, the Liberal Party will win. It is a foregone conclusion. By some accounts it would take a voter swing of more than 18% for Labor to win the seat of Bradfield, which is an utterly preposterous scenario. All in all, it plainly makes no difference whether I vote or who I vote for. My vote is meaningless. If it weren’t mandatory, I probably would not do it.
What is especially sad about this is that I am a very political person. So much so that I read and write about politics in more than four countries. But, apart from that I feel completely removed from the equation. Despite living in Australia, I feel I have as much influence on Australian politics as I do on American politics, possibly less. My living in a safe seat has led to my political disenfranchisement, and, in turn, political apathy. But it is also sad for Bradfield. There is no reason for the Liberal Party to attempt to influence or gain our votes in any way. There is also no reason for any other party to run serious candidates, expend serious resources, or otherwise attempt to win our votes. By signing up before the vote, we have removed any incentive for them to “win” us over. We are, in effect, all disenfranchised. The other disenfranchisement.
Originally Posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine