On June 23, 2016 citizens of the United Kingdom participated in a referendum deciding whether or not the nation country should leave the European Union. The ‘leave’ vote won, 51.9% to 48.1%. With a voter turnout rate of 78.1%, the EU referendum had the highest rate of participation in a UK-wide vote in the 21st century so far. But this article is not about the EU referendum, or at least not directly. While the consequences of the UK leaving the EU are far-reaching and not fully understood or easily predicted, this article concerns the more immediate response: the reactions of the people.
Once results were in, people flocked to their preferred social media platforms in droves. Some celebrated, and some lamented the outcome. Both responses are understandable and expected in the wake of an important vote. What caught my eye as something much more concerning was the way that some of this frustration was expressed.
One of the largest splits between the ‘leave’ and ‘stay’ voters in the referendum came from age; younger voters tended to vote for remaining in the EU, while older voters were more likely to vote to leave. In the wake of the vote many young people (some of under 18; the legal age to vote in the UK) expressed their dismay, but some also expressed outrage that older voters had “robbed” the election from them, and that elderly citizens should not be permitted to vote because the results would not impact their lives to the same degree that it would the youthful demographic.
It was that response that made me blink and look harder at the screen. While outrage is to be expected, and even a sense of despair is common when voted against, the reaction that certain citizens should not be permitted to vote is nothing less than worrying, and to me never will be.
That judgement call of which citizens are deserving of a voice in a political process is the base of how discriminatory laws and nations are built. The determination that a group has a less stock in a vote, or that they have a lower ability to make an informed choice due to some component of their identity is a prime example of a slippery slope. This type of argument had been utilized throughout modern history as a tool of oppression, and the depth of irony in our current environment is that many of the people, many times young and well-intentioned, fail to realize that they are mouthing the words of dictators in the pursuit of expressing their indignation.
Another response, which is not nearly as threatening on a societal level but highly frustrating to see on a personal level was the immediate call for a second referendum by voters that either did not participate (78.9%) or now feel that they voted ‘wrong’.
The aggravation I feel toward these sentiments is also twofold. When voters do not participate in the democratic process, the process inevitably fails and skews toward the interests of those who make the effort – and I do acknowledge that many times voting can be an effort! But a democracy for the service of the people requires that it also be by the people, and that principal is not only a cornerstone of the United States government, but the democratic process as whole.
Even more frustrating are the cries for another referendum because a faulty vote was cast the first time. In a time where information is more accessible than ever, misinformed voting seems like a pale excuse.
Apathy, no matter if expressed in abstention from a vote or in casting an uninformed ballot is one of the largest threats to a functional society. Voting is more than a right or responsibility for citizens in a democratic nation; voting is a civic duty that determines the future of a nation and demonstrates the importance of accountability to all involved.
Calling for another referendum might patch over the anger that many people feel at the results of the June 23rd vote, but it would not erase the nearly 52% of the population that voted to leave. Beyond this particular instance, a second referendum could hurt the chances of nationwide votes in the future: if the results of a referendum have to be re-voted on, then the incentive of having easy-access national votes decreases.
As I stated before, dismay and sadness, even anger, are natural reactions to a vote going to a side that you do not support, and did not vote for. I’ve felt that particular blend of emotions myself and know how unpleasant the feeling is. But though this may be a severe reminder, that anger does not discount the legitimacy of the democratic process no matter who voted on the ‘other side’. And outrage, while always legitimate, is much better expressed as incentive to participate wisely rather than in an attempt to fix past mistakes.