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No, Your Vote Won't Make A Difference

13/04/2015 11:04 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

Cartoons are great. They can make some very complicated opinions and issues simple and accessible. That's why newspapers like to print them and we love to look at them.

Sometimes, though, they can oversimplify things. Take this example - a cartoon that seems to allege that almost 16 million non-voters at the last general election (around 34% of the eligible voting public) thought they couldn't make a difference, when if they'd all voted together, they could have done.

Votes in 2010 general election:- 10.7m Tories- 8.6m Labour- 6.8m LibDems- 15.9m NON VOTERS

Posted by ATOS Miracles on Thursday, 2 April 2015

It's a nice idea, but that's not really how it works. Anyone who believes that has a little too much faith in both the British people and British democracy.

Firstly, some people don't vote because they "don't care about politics". It's a phrase I've heard used a lot. For some people, when they say politicians don't represent them, it's not because they want different politicians; they have no interest in the entire system.

Is that a bad thing? Probably. Will that be changed by appeals from current politicians, the government, or even a cartoon shared on Facebook? Of course not. To engage these people demands real change, not vapid statements.

Secondly, those people who think they can't make a difference by voting are probably right. Not ideologically so, but because of the reality of our electoral system.

In the UK, our elections operate on a system called first past the post. This means that, whatever constituency you live in, your votes count for nothing if you didn't vote for the winner. Your votes, quite literally, cannot make a difference.

The winning candidate - who, in around 60% of constituencies, is almost chosen beforehand thanks to the existence of "safe seats", regardless of how the missing 34% would have voted or not - then often refuses to represent your views on certain issues, because he was elected on a different mandate (just look at the number of MPs who voted against gay marriage compared to public opinion).

Those people who want you to turn out on May 7 sometimes suggest spoiling your ballot, because that way you'll be counted as someone who took an interest, rather than someone who couldn't be bothered. But that still won't mean your 'vote' is making a difference. In fact, the Electoral Commission actually classifies these protest votes as "voter's intention uncertain". And they certainly won't mark it down as a win for the anarchists if a majority of people spoil rather than vote.

But the worst thing of all? That cartoon has been manipulated to take it out of its original context. Here is the cartoon in full:

You'll notice the caption: "two thirds of eligible Texans don't vote". Hopefully, you'll also notice the big difference between that situation and the British situation: two thirds not voting is a majority, whereas 34% not voting is a minority. That, when spread across the country, means that in some places your first time vote would make very little difference whatsoever.

The only situation where your vote would count is if we had a proportionally representative system, where no vote goes to waste - a policy supported by the Green Party and rather tenuously by the Lib Dems, but those parties are unlikely to be a big success without it (the Greens haven't bothered to stand in some constituencies, including the marginal Lincoln, where I'll be voting).

The solution, then, is not to vote, but to protest. When a million people marched against the Iraq War, it's probable there were some people there who hadn't voted. Were they being irresponsible by not voting and yet turning up to protest? Of course not.

In fact, while the actual aim of the protest was unsuccessful, that civil disobedience made far more politicians sit up and take notice of people power than any election. Similarly, a protest in favour of proportional representation and electoral reform would also set the agenda far more than a vote for the Greens or Liberals might get that reform talked about in the places of power.

It's not your vote that really makes a difference. It's your actions in the five years between each vote that are important.