Why your vote doesn't matter

One vote is a statistical error. A thousand can swing an election.

The chances of a single vote influencing an election is virtually nil. Just about every democratic election in history has been decided not by one vote, but by a percentage of the electorate. One man’s vote does not matter. But the voting patters of one percent of the electorate does. It’s the way democratic systems are structured.

Democracy means ‘people’s rule’. Elections are designed to capture and reflect the people’s choice. An individual vote is but one of many. There are any number of variables that influence a single person’s vote: personal connections to a politician, anger towards a party, random choice, family tradition, and other such factors. Every person’s vote is influenced by different variables to different degrees. By collating everybody’s votes, these factors can be accounted for.

In addition, a single vote shouldn’t be significant. Democracy is about equality. One man’s vote has the same weight as someone else. The vote of a rich and powerful corporate director has the same weight as the vote of an underpaid blue collar barely able to feed his family. This ensures that nobody can hijack an election and impose his will on society. This means the son of a powerful politician cannot keep his father in power simply by voting. This means an oligarchy of powerful men cannot simply will a puppet into political office just by casting their votes. This means ordinary people are able to rally and put their choice in office, to elect a person who would listen and represent their voices.

One vote doesn’t matter. One cluster of votes does.

Voting is a social activity. People do not vote in a vacuum. They talk to their friends and family, and everybody tries to convince everybody else to vote the same way. Then their friends and family talk to their friends and family, who talk to their friends and family too. And everybody is trying to convince each other to choose a party or a candidate. People go out and meet new people, and try to convince them to vote for someone too. Those new contacts will talk to their friends and family, and the process cascades.

A cynic would see this as rule of, for, and by the sheeple. That is, democracy is little more than an exercise in appealing to popularity. Certainly populism is founded on this notion.

But there is another way to see this. This mechanism allows people to discuss what is important to them, and whether a politician can meet their needs. It allows an individual to influence how other people to vote, and a large number of people to convert a single person’s choice. It allows people to reach out to complete strangers and convince them to vote.

If you’re reading this and a Singaporean, you probably support one party or other. You’ll definitely want that party to represent you in Parliament. If you haven’t already, go out and talk to people. Convince your friends and family to vote for your choice. Make new friends and encourage them to vote for your choice. They will convince their friends and family too. Use social media to reinforce your point of view and reach out across the Internet. Someone, somewhere, will pick up what you’ve posted. That person will be reaching out to people and convincing them to vote for your choice. This process is repeated over and over and over again until Polling Day. The vote cluster you’ve created goes a long way towards ensuring your favourite politician enters office. Much longer than a single vote.

There are no wrong choices in an election. Only consequences.

Footnote: I’ll be covering the Singapore People’s Party rally tonight. I hope I’ll have more stuff to report this time.

The Workers' Party Punggol East election flier

Sometime between noon and 1615 hrs, the Workers’ Party left a flier on my doorstep. It’s noticeably thinner than the PAP’s. Unlike the PAP’s flier, though, this one is full of text.

Not that it means much.

The flier has a message from Low Thia Khiang, Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party, and introduces Lee Li Lian. The former articulates Low’s vision of a ‘First World Parliament’, and why voters should choose the Workers’ Party in such a context. A ‘First World Parliament’ is a Parliament with ‘a strong check and balance mechanism to balance the executive’, enabled by ‘a credible and responsible opposition elected by the people to represent them in Parliament and to protect their rights’.

The first half of Low’s message is that a Parliament with effective opposition credibility would ensure government accountability, represent the people’s voice, and insure against any failures by the PAP. The second half says that the WP is the best choice because the WP ‘has historical depth’, ‘has the longest presence’ in Parliament, is credible, and has experience ‘managing a Town’ (meaning, Hougang).

I am not convinced that this flier will win very many votes for the Workers’ Party. The First World Parliament brand can be an effective communication tool. However, the message is presented in terms of rights, checks and balances, and democracy. This is just a small facet of what people are worried about. There’s nothing in this flier that suggests that the WP is able to address the concerns most people have. I wish the WP had tied in key elements of its manifesto into the flier, combining it with the term ‘First World Parliament’, indicating that it actually has a workable vision. While the WP did include a link to its YouTube account, it doesn’t mean much for people without an Internet access or a computer.

Also, there is very little political information on Lee. Much of her write-up is dedicated to her background, leaving just a paragraph for ‘philosophy’. It seems that she is very interested in representing women, and encouraging women to contribute to society. Unfortunately, by the flier alone, I don’t know how she is going to do that. I also don’t know what she will do for the people of Punggol East.

I sense the WP wants greater accountability and representation in Parliament. The flier, however, doesn’t address any of the more mundane problems people face (mentioned in the post below). Low’s message could potentially backfire for some people: some people don’t care about more opposition members in Parliament because they’re too busy worrying how to pay their bills.

In a sense, the WP’s flier is the polar opposite of the PAP’s flier. The PAP flier presents all the short-term material things Palmer can provide to Punggol East if elected. The WP flier articulates the more abstract long-term benefits a First World Parliament brings to the people of Singapore.

What I would like to see is a marriage of both concepts. An election message that describes what a candidate can bring to a ward, and what the party can bring to the nation. A campaign that simultaneously addresses bread and butter issues and civil and political rights. A candidate who can represent the needs of her constituency, and the needs of her country.

I guess I’ll have to wait.

The PAP Punggol East election flier

The People’s Action Party has sent an election flier to my doorstep. Finally. The Opposition had sent out their fliers a long time ago. It’s almost like the PAP is trying to make up for its tardiness with photos, multiple languages, photos, glossy paper, photos, promises, and more photos. It’s closer to a booklet than a flier, really.

If the booklet is any indication, Palmer’s election platform is a variation of the PAP’s favourite combination:

1, Point out history of social programs and upgrading projects

2. State upcoming projects and promise to carry them out if elected

3. Ask voters to question the Opposition

4. Ignore concerns people have with the government

I am singularly unimpressed.

On the first and second points, I am unconvinced. The government’s job is to serve all people, not just those who voted for them. The real point here is that if the opposition wins, support and funding for those projects and programs would mysteriously dry up, and promised programs would be cancelled. This is akin to holding a hammer over a man’s foot and threatening to drop it if he doesn’t vote. I will not be coerced into voting for the PAP, and my vote cannot be bought with upgrading projects and programmes alone.

The third point is understandable, somewhat. Until yesterday, I didn’t know the name of the Workers’ Party candidate (it’s Lee Li Lian), and the SDA’s election platform is sketchy at best. There isn’t much for Palmer to address here, and anyway the point of an election flier is to brag about yourself. Attacking the other guy can wait for a different medium.

I’m most concerned about the last point. Current government policy brought us to where we are today: a nation straddled with rising costs of living, elderly men and women forced to work as cleaners in the twilight of their lives, censorship in arts and media, disequality for non-straight people, immigration-related concerns over job security and education and housing, and lack of government accountability. The flier failed to address these points. If Palmer had any views on them, they’re not in the flier. Not even a promise to talk about these issues. Even the SDA did better, just by pointing out the concerns that people have with new immigrants. The PAP seems to be whitewashing this altogether in Punggol East.

Nice try, Palmer. But if you want my vote, please try harder.

Side note: I will be working with The Online Citizen to cover the General Elections. Tonight, I will be going to cover the National Solidarity Party, but my permanent assignment is the Singapore People’s Party. I hope to tweet about things as soon as I get access to an Internet connection. My fingers are crossed. Stay tuned…

Disconnection

Election fever is sweeping across the Internet. But I’m immune.

Funny words coming from the guy who covered the Singapore People’s Party for The Online Citizen.

Even more so since I live in Punggol East. Over here, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, Workers’ Party and the People’s Action Party are competing against each other for votes. The viability of three-cornered fights have been vigorously debated online and offline. To more than a few spectators and participants in the debate, this is an exercise in theoretical reasoning. I’m living the reality of a three-way election, and I have to live with the consequences.

I’m not excited, though. Not one bit.

This looks like apathy, doesn’t it? I’ve got more important things than politics to worry about now. How to pay the bills. How to make money. How to embark on my writing career. A dozen other things, all associated with the art of living. Politics is at the back of my mind.

Doesn’t mean it’s indifference. It’s more akin to disappointment. Disconnection.

I believe in a better world. A world founded on democracy, justice, freedom, reason, and the dignity and worth of all people in it. I believe that the human race has the ability to elevate itself beyond ignorance, corruption, greed and bigotry. Politics is the instrument to achieve this end. But the politics available to me don’t come close to what I believe in.

The SDA’s representative is its Secretary-General, Desmond Lim. I am singularly unimpressed with the SDA. The SDA’s History page is lifted almost entirely from its Wikipedia entry. With some citations, even.

This is a symptom of superficiality. The SDA has not articulated any of its policies on its website. The closest I have seen is ‘Singapore for Singaporeans’, which ‘stands firmly on the ground to prioritize benefits for Singaporeans’. No elaboration provided. There’s nothing about public transportation, rising costs of living, civil rights, nothing. It’s telling that the campaign fliers the SDA gives out during its walkabout has more details than the website. These ‘details’ amounting to little more than limiting the influx of foreigners in Singapore and reaffirming democratic freedoms. And slamming the ruling party. The SDA’s videos on YouTube are no better.

To be fair, the SDA suffered a major setback in March. The Singapore People’s Party pulled out of the alliance, taking with it the heart of the SDA. The SDA had had to play catch-up ever since. But it does not excuse the lack of effort put into politics. I don’t see an attempt at a manifesto. I don’t even see an attempt at a proper website: it presents no more information about the party than what an hour on Wikipedia and YouTube can dig up. It’s as if the SDA is running for the elections for the sake of opposing the PAP.

The Workers’ Party is decidedly the opposite of the SDA. It has a detailed manifesto. It looks like it has been written by a team with more than a passing familiarity with public policy and economics. Also, I don’t know who I’m voting for.

I’ve encountered WP volunteers in my estate. On both occasions, I’ve asked them who is contesting here. On both occasions, they replied, ‘You’ll find out on Nomination Day’. Of walkabouts, I have seen none.

This is poor strategy. I am not voting for a party. I am voting for a party and a person. I want to know the measure of the person who thinks he can represent my interests. I want to feel her out, understand what she can bring to my constituency and to me, in addition to Singapore. I need to know who I’m voting for. I need a reason to vote for a person, and party affiliation is not a strong enough reason. I can’t wait for Nomination Day – I’ll be too busy following the SPP during campaign season.

As for the PAP? It is a union of the objections I have with the SDA and the WP. The PAP has released its manifesto – which is full of hollow words and pictures. Michael Palmer is expected to run here – only I haven’t seen him before.

This video sums up the PAP’s manifesto. The video has a lot of promises: ‘We will help lower-income Singaporeans improve their lives’, ‘we will bring out the best in every child with paths for students of different abilities and interests’ and ‘We will develop an endearing home. A city for the young and old.’ These promises are backed up with lines like ‘affordable new HDB homes’ and ‘workfare’ and ‘more teachers in every school’ – but little more. There is no elaboration on how the PAP intends to carry this out, why this course of action, or even what terms like ‘vibrant arts and culture’ actually mean. There’s nothing of importance in the manifesto, nothing that would comprehensively address the challenges Singaporeans face.

As for Michael Palmer, I don’t know him. I’ve been living in the same area since 2007, but I have never seen any of my Members of Parliament. I haven’t seen the PAP doing any walkabouts in my area. The PAP hasn’t even left any fliers around here. Why should I vote for a man I’ve never met? Because he’s the incumbent? That’s not a good enough reason.

Elections should be about choosing the best candidate and party. Instead, I have to choose the least worst. I don’t fully agree with any party, and none of the candidates inspire me.

So, do I care about politics? I care enough that I’m voting by my conscience. I care enough to look into what the parties stand for. I care enough to spend an afternoon writing this post. I care enough to cover the elections for TOC. I care enough to be disappointed. And to be disconnected.