As a British citizen, I remember watching the U.S. elections and feeling impotent—frustrated that a decision that affects so much of the world was in the hands of a couple of hundred million Americans. It never occurred to me that other people might feel the same way about our own elections.
The unusual way in which Afghans, Ghanaians, and Bangladeshis get to vote in the U.K. elections.
As the U.K. gears up for its general election on May 6, an experiment in democracy is inviting voters to donate their votes to those in the developing world. The idea behind Give Your Vote is simple: In a globalized world, the impact of rich governments' decisions is felt far beyond its shores. It's only fair, goes the logic, that some of the most-affected people also get a say in who is calling the shots.
So Give Your Vote aims to redress the balance a little. Here's how it works. Brits sign the manifesto and offer to share their vote with people in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Ghana. At the same time, residents of those three countries can sign up to learn about the politics of the major British parties—and can even be quizzed on what they've learned. Next, once they've made a decision of who they would like to see in office in the U.K., they send a text message to a British citizen, who then votes accordingly at the polls.
Give Your Vote picked countries that are particularly affected by U.K. policy; Afghanistan’s war is directly influenced by British foreign policy; the rising waters of Bangladesh are affected, less directly, by British environmental policy; and Ghana’s farmers face an uphill battle against cheap British imports subsidised by the U.K. government trade policies.
It’s a radical idea. Will it work? Many potential voters in the United Kingdom are disenchanted with the whole political class after a nasty scandal last summer that tainted all the main parties. The country is still clawing its way out of a deep recession, and the economy is understandably top priority for many of those who do still intend to bother voting. With problems this pressing close to home, how many people will be willing to hand away their vote? May Abdalla, one of Give Your Vote's coordinators, won't reveal the number of people who've pledged their vote so far, but she says that it's in the "thousands, not hundreds."
For U.K. voters, says Abdalla, Give Your Vote is an opportunity to lend a tiny toehold to an Afghan, Bangladeshi, or Ghanaian. It's a symbolic gesture of solidarity—and one which looks like it could catch on. Abdalla says that Give Your Vote has been contacted by other groups wanting to do something similar in elections in Italy, in France, and in the United States' 2012 elections.
"The response has been amazing... It's a small idea that taps into how politics works now and people's frustrations with it," she says. "It's a way that people can make their vote powerful."
Illustration by Matthew Manos.