Our vote: a powerful instrument for change

Our vote is much more powerful than we can ever imagine. Our electoral system provides for a transferability of the votes cast through a system of preferences. Our electoral system is in fact known as the single transferable vote (STV).

This means that we cast our vote by indicating the candidate which gets our first preference by denoting the number one next to his/her name. Subsequently we continue with other consecutive preferences. As a result, if at any point our preferred candidate does not require our vote, this proceeds to being utilised by the candidate which we indicate as our second preference. If required the vote can even move on to being utilised by candidates which we would have indicated as being our additional but later preferences. This happens all the time during all the elections organised in this country.

There is no uniform way as to how voters proceed to determine their voting preferences. After identifying the first preference some limit themselves to assigning their preferences to the candidates of just one political party, ignoring the rest. Some limit themselves to a couple of names on one party list and ignore the rest.

Others, pick and choose across party lines. Hence the term “cross-party voting”. Every voter has this right: some use it, others are not even aware of its availability.

The Parliamentary parties are not enthusiastic about “cross-party voting” except when they benefit directly. They consider that it dilutes their strength. In fact, they continuously seek to discourage such a practice by spreading around the admonition, during election time, that this practice could invalidate your vote! This is done to reduce, as much as possible, voter leakage.

On the other hand, ADPD has always encouraged cross-party voting as such a practice genuinely gives value to every candidate on the ballot paper. This is the manner which can help us elect the best possible representatives wherever they are needed.

In fact, some of those who vote ADPD tend to vote across party lines habitually. The percentage of those who vote in this manner varies from one election to another. It also varies by district and locality. Around 33 per cent of ADPD voters, on average, identify preferences on the ballot paper which go beyond green candidates. At times the preferences they select have had a determining effect on the result.

This goes to show the strength and impact of each individual vote. It is the mature way to use your vote thereby ensuring that it is effective for as long as possible throughout the electoral cycle.  We should not only respect those who act in this manner: their behaviour should be encouraged as it delivers good results for all.

All this is being stated to explain why I have submitted my candidature for the casual election due tomorrow Monday 14 November 2022 as a result of Albert Buttiġieġ resigning from the St Julian’s Local Council  after being elected as a Member of Parliament.

Last Wednesday I submitted my nomination as a sign of respect towards all St Julian’s voters, and in particular those who have unchained themselves from partisan prejudice and voted accordingly.  The political party which I lead has always maintained that our vote can and should be utilised beyond the artificial limitations which the parliamentary political parties seek to impose. Contrary to the stand taken by the parliamentary parties we have always encouraged that voting is carried out in a non-restrictive manner such that it is possible to value all candidates without being hampered by their political allegiance.

Voters who act in this manner, refusing to be restricted in the manner in which they exercise their voting rights deserve to be respected. In these circumstances not contesting a casual election is not an option for me, even though I am aware that the possibilities are limited. In these circumstances contesting is a duty.

In selecting their preferred candidates some of the voters switch their vote from one political party to another. When the votes for the 2019 St Julians Local Council elections were counted, at second count stage it resulted that 6.33% of the votes obtained by candidate Albert Buttigieg had their second preference assigned to candidates of the other political parties. This is reflected in the manner in which the surplus votes of Albert Buttiġieġ were distributed. Most probably this will be repeated during the casual election counting process. In fact, it happens continuously during other elections as well.

I am not aware as to what lies in store in the sealed packets containing the electoral quota of Albert Buttiġieġ. The numbers involved are small: the full quota contains just 390 votes. The quota for the casual election will therefore be 196 votes.

The casual election result may be determined by the number of voters who decide to make full use of the power of their vote. Some have, most probably, first voted for all the PN candidates and thereafter proceeded to vote for one or more of the candidates presented by the other political parties, including yours truly.  Others will have selected other options.

This is the strength of our electoral system which is not always appreciated. In this context our vote is a tool for positive change.

We need to respect our voters, knowing what they go through to express their preferences for political change through their vote.  These voters motivate me in my political work, including in the decision to contest this casual election which has been described as an unusual political step.

Irrespective of the result I am humbled by the experience, and as always submit myself to the will of the voters.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 November 2022