Give your vote to an asylum seeker

What if you gave your vote to someone who doesn’t get to have one?

As we all probably know by now, the Australian federal election is coming up on September 14. If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty cheesed off with the current state of Australian politics. If the rising rate of informal and donkey voting is anything to go by, a lot of us don’t care anymore, or can’t find a candidate for whom it is worth voting. I personally haven’t voted since the 2004 Federal Election, and have claimed a religious exemption each time (you can read why here).

But I was hanging out today with a young guy from Zimbabwe who is seeking asylum in Australia – let’s call him Larry (that’s not his real name, just for privacy reasons).  We were talking about how in Zimbabwe, elections have been rigged for years, with Mugabe and other powerbrokers basically threatening or killing any opposition. At least here in Australia, he said, no one dies because they oppose the government of the day. It might not be pretty politics, but at least no one gets shot for their ideas. In Zimbabwe, he said, when a leader is knifed in the back, they’re literally knifed in the back. Here, he said, there’s peaceful politics.

As I listened to him talk, it struck me that Larry is more invested in the current state of Australian politics than I am. Partly that’s because he’s come from a place where politics is depressingly different, but it’s also partly because not only is he vulnerable in this land, but he’s completely disenfranchised from the system that will decide his fate, and the many tens of thousands of others in similar positions.

And then I thought: what if I gave Larry my vote?

So I asked him: if you could vote, who would you vote for? He told me, and gave a deeply insightful answer as to why. And then I told him I would vote for them on his behalf.

And then I thought: what if a whole bunch of people gave their votes to asylum seekers? We could, in some small way, give a whole lot of very vulnerable people a way to have their say about Australian politics.

So, here are some reasons why you should give your vote to an asylum seeker (if you have more, add your own in the comments):

1. If there’s a more marginalised, disenfranchised group in Australia, I don’t know what it is. I mean, the Australian mainland doesn’t even exist for these people. They have no power over their fate (hence the rates of suicide, self harm, etc in detention centres), and they can be locked up for years for doing nothing other than seeking a safe place to live. Even when they’re let out of detention they’re not allowed to work, or do many of the things we take for granted. Why not give them something that enfranchises them within the system even if just a little bit?

2. It means you’ll have to go and meet an actual asylum seeker. I did think about having a database or something that some asylum seeker advocate could put together that people could access like a gift registry, but that would mean people could do this exercise from a distance, without actually getting to hang out with a real person. There are plenty of ways you can meet people – including going to visit people in detention (it’s likely there’s one near you).

3. This teeny bit of enfranchisement will likely pay dividends for years to come, as they inevitably receive citizenship (statistically speaking, it’s highly likely they will) and want to invest more deeply in the political system. They would already have some investment in their new country’s system, and know a bit about it if they didn’t already.

4. Asylum seekers are often intelligent and insightful, but have always had incredible life experience that has grown wisdom in them. Why wouldn’t you want engaged, wise people voting?

Obviously you can’t literally have an asylum seeker go into the little cardboard booth for you (although it would be really cool if they could), but you can ask them how they would vote and then vote that way. It might not be the way you’d vote anyway, or it might be – but the point is that the system has to in some way acknowledge and enact their will, rather than an already enfranchised person’s.

This shouldn’t replace asylum seeker advocacy inside or outside the system – goodness knows we need a massive shift all over the country, at all levels on this issue. But this would be a small way for the system to be forced to acknowledge that these people exist, and have wills and intentions, and often better thought out ideas than the rest of us have.

P.S. If you don’t want to do this for an asylum seeker, do it for a child instead. After all, they have more investment in the future than the older folks who get to vote.

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