With the UK General Election coming up soon, many people will be making their first vote. It can feel strange, being asked to choose between options when you are presented with no information on the differences. When I turned 18, I remember feeling very uninformed on the whole system. Here are a few things I wish I knew.
1. Not voting is a legitimate option - when I first voted, I might as well have been pointing at random and picking that, for all I knew on the subject. I stopped voting for a few years, just so I could read up on the views of the different parties and make an informed decision. Once I had a better idea of politics, I voted, this time choosing someone who's ideals lined up with my own. You do not lose your right to free speech because you didn't vote, and you can still talk about what in the system you'd like to change. That's how you learn!
2. There are better ways then not voting, however - the Government does record protest votes - ballot papers turned in blank. If enough people do this, it will be discussed on the local/national news. If you are unhappy with the system, this is one way to show it.
3. The voting system isn't by popular vote - rather then being based on an exact percentage, we are divided into constituencies, and whichever party wins the most constituencies gets into power. In my area, I sometimes feel like I am throwing a drop of red into an ocean of blue.
4. Help is available - if you're not sure who to vote for, there are quizzes online that can tell you who's views you line up most closely with. If you're not sure, try this quiz to give you a rough idea.
5. The news doesn't give all the story - sometimes, the news will say one thing, and newspapers something entirely different. Always check a story in as many sources as you can. And be extra careful with things that you see on social media!
6. Voting is important - with all that said, votes still matter. There are places in the world where their citizens still don't have this right. For woman and many minority groups, people had to fight so that we can vote. However, it is equally as valid to say "I don't know" and to take time to think about it. I would like to see more of the public being informed in their voting choice.
What would I like to change about our system? I would allow people from 16-18 to vote, but provide them with a different coloured slip and not count it towards official totals. This may mean that people start to learn about politics earlier. Also, the votes they make will still be counted, and obviously if there is a strong enough trend it will likely be discussed on the news. I would ask for more lessons on politics to be brought into schools. I would provide everyone with a sheet before going into the voting booth, detailing the policies of each party. No views, just the facts. And I would make the system an actual popular vote system.