Vote for the vote-less: A call to listen to those who have no voice in this General Election

Chase Smith 6 May 2015

This Thursday, I will not be queuing at a polling station to cast my vote in what has proven to be the most consistently fascinating and closely contested election in decades. I will not be displaying an ‘I voted today’ sticker on my shirt pocket or filling out post-election surveys for the student newspapers. But most of all, I will not have the unfathomably simple choice between voting and abstaining – because I have no choice in the first place.

I cannot vote. As an international student hailing from a non-commonwealth country, this will not exactly be a surprise come Thursday. I’m not asking for the right to do so, nor would I ever expect to receive that privilege. I am not asking for a ballot slip: I am asking for the right to be heard on the other side of the glass wall that is British citizenship.

Being eighteen and yet not having the ability to vote in an election that has the power to influence issues from immigration regulations to tuition fees has been a new experience for me. In November, I will be able to cast a vote in the United States; however, I will be spending far less of the coming year there. Cambridge has become my home as much as America has always been: Cambridge, not Connecticut, is the place where I pay tuition fees, where my student visa permits me to live, and where I will spend much of the first years of my adulthood. And yet, here I have no voice to express the manner in which I would like that home to be funded, administered, and governed at a national level.

This is not a critique of the British electoral system, but rather a call to think about how the policies on which Cambridge students and residents are voting this Thursday may affect those people who cannot join them in the polling station. Having my pigeon-hole flooded with a vast variety of pamphlets on which I cannot express a formal opinion, and receiving brightly coloured cards calling for a vote I cannot exercise, have given me a small taste of what many of the far more voiceless in British society must experience more frequently, and to a greater depth of anxiety, than I ever will. I cannot imagine, for example, the pain of migrants on seeing themselves labelled on the front page of a national newspaper as ‘cockroaches,’ but simultaneously having no recourse to vote against such sentiments in the General Election.

It is a fact of democratic society that although every eligible citizen has the chance to vote, not everyone in that society is a citizen. What I ask for, then, is for the student voters of Cambridge to consider those around them who do not have a voice in this election – from those as fortunate as international students to those far more vulnerable, including political refugees and asylum seekers – whom politicians discuss so often in such lurid terms but who cannot respond through the mechanism of the ballot paper and the pen.

It is another fact of democratic society that although every citizen has the chance to vote, not every citizen will make the choice to exercise that opportunity: in the 2010 General Election, the national voting turnout was only 65.1%. So in light of this, I urge eligible Cambridge students to take part, seize this political opportunity, and vote with the knowledge that to do so is a privilege that not everyone in this university, let alone this country, can enjoy.