I know this is going to sound odd and a little strange – but I love voting. I don’t love elections – god, how much more boring could they be? – but I do love voting. Now, I admit that my love of voting is relatively recent. It was about ten years ago when I stepped into a polling booth, picked up a pencil and paused to take the moment in. No, I wasn’t on some sort of drug, nor was I dazed from a recent knock on the head. At least, not the kind you’re thinking of.
No, the knock on my head that made me pause before I put my mark on the paper in my hand was of an entirely different kind. See, our election at that time was just a few days after the first, real, free elections in East Timor. This fledgling country was desperately trying to escape the clutches of a dominating and domineering foreign power, and these elections were their first attempt at choosing their own future. But it wasn’t so easy for them. Voters were beaten up, threatened, shot and killed. Anti-election riots caused the deaths of dozens across the country. But the people of East Timor doggedly pursued democracy and voted nonetheless.
On that day when I stood in the polling booth, all I could see was snatches of those pictures of violence and mayhem I’d seen on television. I then looked around me at the quiet polling station, the desks where pleasant middle-class people crossed voters’ names off their lists before handing them their voting cards. I could hear traffic outside and the noise of children heading to the beach.
When I put my mark on my ballot paper, I felt an unbelievable sense of freedom. And privilege. I can’t believe how lucky I am to live in a country where the biggest danger I’ll experience on polling day is a paper cut. Where the only thing I have to fear is the wrong party winning the election. Where the most difficult thing I’ll have to do that day is make sure I don’t forget to head to the polling booth.
I love voting. Seriously, can you think of any other time when somebody – anybody – asks you what you think? I love the fact that voting is my opportunity to make the government listen to what I have to say. It’s written into our constitution that I get to have my say on a regular basis. And it doesn’t matter what colour I am, age, religion – or gender. It doesn’t matter whether I think all politicians are bastards, or angels (although, honestly is it possible anybody could think that?). It doesn’t matter what my opinion is – only that I have the opportunity to voice it.
Not that long ago, in fact, less than 100 years, I would not have been able to vote – because I’m a woman. When the first of what we consider ‘democratic’ societies began, back in ancient Greece, women couldn’t vote. Actually, there were a lot of things women couldn’t do, including owning property, making their own decisions, or going outside the house. I’m delighted to say that things have come a long way for most of us. But believe it or not, 3,000 years later, there are still countries out there that don’t allow women to vote (don’t get me started).
Universal suffrage is still relatively new in the west, so new that we don’t really appreciate the effort it took to achieve, and we don’t really remember those who got it for us. But today, we live in a wealthy, stable, peaceful democracy – because we all vote.
Something else that hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years: politicians. They make elections insufferable. But in the long run, I can put up with them, because at the end of the election, I get to have my say. I get to stand in that dinky little cardboard ‘booth’ and put my mark in pencil on the paper. And then I get to walk away, unmolested. And every time I do it, I feel free.
Yeah, I love voting.