Remember – your vote counts!

Some people will tell you that your vote doesn’t matter and that voting is pointless. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Voting is one of the most important things a person can do in a democracy. It is a way of making your voice heard and your opportunity to tell the government you agree with what it’s doing (by voting for the governing party) or, conversely, that it’s doing a bad job (by voting for the opposition).

Some people will tell you that your vote doesn’t matter and that voting is pointless. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Apart from the fact – which stretches into cliché – that people died for our right to vote today our vote can make a difference.

Also, don’t forget that in the last election in South Africa nearly 20 million people who were eligible to vote (South African citizens over the age of 18) did not do so. This is more than the total number of people who voted in that election. If only ten percent of those people could be persuaded to turn up at the ballot box it could serve as a wake-up call for our established parties.

And political parties react to pressure at the ballot box – even the ANC…

But remember, your vote counts. Here are three times when a handful of votes changed an election.

  1. 2000 US Presidential election in Florida

In 2000 the American election was a close contest between the governor of Texas and son of a former President, George Bush, and the then-Vice-President, Al Gore.

The election came down to the state of Florida (America picks its presidents using an electoral college and which is determined using results in the different states). Whoever won the state would have enough votes in the electoral college to become the next president of the country.

The election came down to the wire. Nearly 5 million people voted in the Florida election with Bush beating Gore by just over 500 votes, an extremely tiny margin when so many people voted.

Bush won the votes of 2 912 790 people with Gore excruciatingly close, as 2 912 253 people supported him in the election. The election basically came down to 0.01% of the electorate.

  1. 2011 local government election in Mutale, Limpopo

A ward election during the 2011 local government election in South Africa came down to the toss of a coin, when the candidates couldn’t be separated by votes.

In Mutale in northern Limpopo the independent candidate for ward 3, Isaiah Mabonyane won 823 votes, the same as the ANC candidate, Sarah Rambuda. The number of votes cast was 1 720 and no other party won more than 30 votes.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) decided to decide who would become the ward’s representative would be made through tossing a coin, with Rambuda being the lucky winner. Legislation allowed for such a method to be used to break a tie.

Mabonyane had previously been a member of the ANC but decided to run as an independent after the party had nominated him as the candidate for the ward.

Mutale municipality no longer exists and is now part of Thulamela and Musina municipalities.

At the time Mabonyane said he would be taking legal action against the IEC but it is not clear if he ever did so.

  1. The FDP in Thuringia in 2019

This election did not see one candidate or another lose but shows how important each vote remains.

In October 2019 an election was held in the German state of Thuringia. Germany, like South Africa, uses a proportional system, where the number of seats a party wins in a legislature is broadly proportional to the number of votes it wins. However, in an attempt to make it harder for extremists to get seats in a legislature Germany uses an electoral threshold, where parties have to win more than a certain proportion of the vote to get a legislative seat. The threshold in Germany is 5%.

In the 2019 election in Thuringia the Free Democratic Party (FDP) just snuck in above the threshold and won five seats in the 90-member legislature. The FDP had 55 493 votes out of nearly 1.8 million cast. If the party had won 73 fewer votes it would have missed out on the 5% threshold and would not have made it into the state parliament.

So, next time someone tells you that ‘my vote doesn’t count’ tell them some of these stories – and these are only three examples of times when a handful of votes did count. There have been many elections in many countries where the result would have changed if only a few people had changed the way they had voted or had decided to not stay at home that day and go make their voice heard, as is their democratic right.

Voting is a right, but you also have the responsibility to use your vote, and to use it wisely. And use it to make those in power listen to you and your concerns.