Your Right Not To Vote (And why it’s bullsh*t)

As I clicked the share button on my tenth or eleventh status update on the last election day urging my friends to “VOTE!”  it felt a bit like tweeting that they should “BREATHE OXYGEN!” or that “CANCER IS BAD!”  It seems so obvious and so simple that being pro-voting almost feels trite.

It isn’t   I was surprised to find a number of my friends boasting about not voting.

Choosing not to vote isn’t edgy or provocative; it’s intellectually lazy and disrespectful.  Voting for the lesser of two evils is better than not voting at all, hell, writing someone in is better than not voting at all.  If you don’t see a candidate who represents your views and you don’t participate because of that, you will never see a candidate who represents your views.  If the candidate with lukewarm support for gay rights won with bigger margins, the party might consider backing a candidate with actual support for gay rights.  If there were a significant number of write-ins, it would signal a base willing to come out and support something big if they had the option.  But when those “lesser of two evils” candidates barely eke out a win or lose, the offerings will get safer and safer and more disappointing.  

There may not always be a good choice, but there will always be a better choice. Opting out doesn’t put you above the ugly political game; it makes you complicit.  


10 thoughts on “Your Right Not To Vote (And why it’s bullsh*t)

  1. I would never post a facebook status BRAGGING about not voting, as I agree that seems somewhat douchey. However, as someone who has abstained from voting in the past, I can assure you it was not out of laziness or disrespect on my part. As R.E.M. says in “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.

    Even this year there is a little sliver of me that feels uneasy about voting. Barack Obama is still a politician, even if he has come out in favor of gay rights or shown support for women’s issues. I don’t know him personally and don’t agree with every single one of his policies. I believe he has probably lied to the public (ask the fact-checkers!). Basically, he plays the politics game just like Romney or anyone else does. And because I disapprove of the game and its rules, I will never trust the players 100%.

    That being said, yes, I will vote for Obama this year because he has shown to support the issues that are important to me. But it’s entirely possible that I will not vote in future presidential elections. It will depend entirely on the issues and the candidates.

    • I thought about you a lot while writing this post, mostly because I was hoping you would implicitly know that I do not think you’re lazy or disrespectful. Because…duh.

      While I understand your disgust with the system, I really do think that showing up and casting a write-in choice is infinitely preferable to not showing up. That let’s the powers-that-be know that there are votes to be had, willing and ready to be counted with them if they offer you the right alternative. Abstaining entirely lumps you in with the people who will never show up. When that happens, the issues you care about get ignored. Imagine what would happen if all of the people who don’t vote showed up and just…made it known that they had a vote to be courted. It would send the political establishment into a tizzy trying to figure out how to reach them. Right now, the establishment barely acknowledges their existence, and from a pragmatic standpoint, they shouldn’t. There is no sense appeasing people who don’t show up later.

      • I knew you didn’t mean me specifically! But I do feel like I can speak for a lot of those who are in my position.

        I don’t necessarily agree with you regarding showing up to cast a write-in vote. For one thing, there is no one to write in. (Andrew Twigg for president?) And I shouldn’t have to show up to the polls and write someone in for the government to know that I have a vote to be courted. I am a citizen. They know how many American citizens there are. They can do the math. If I’m not showing up to vote, I highly doubt that their conclusion is “Great! They’re perfectly happy with either choice.” Any logical person can conclude that many people aren’t voting because they’re NOT happy with the choices, or that they simply don’t care — which might as well be the same thing as not being happy with the choices, because the outcome is the same: not voting.

        What I’m saying is the act of not voting should scream just as loudly to the establishment as the act of writing someone else in, if not louder. And if they do believe apathy to be the culprit, isn’t that worse than disgust?

      • Addi, WordPress isn’t letting me reply to you, so I’m replying to myself.

        I agree that politicians *should* care about your wants and needs whether you vote or not. But they don’t. If you don’t vote, you don’t exist.

        It isn’t that they don’t know non-voters are unhappy. It’s that they have absolutely no reason to care.

        Political machines are not going to cater to a market share they think doesn’t exist. The stereotype of non-voters, especially young ones, is that even if there were a great candidate, they wouldn’t show up anyway. But if suddenly there were a share of the market that was evident but uncaptured (write-in votes or third party votes), the political machines would begin to factor that into their decisions regarding which candidates to back.

        Write in Andrew Twigg (I mean, he would be a great president). Write in Big Bird. Write in “protest vote.” Your simple presence in the voting booth shifts the conversation away from the safe, middling candidates.

    • Addi — it seems that the chain has gotten too long for me to respond to your most recent comment — but that is the one I am responding to here, FYI!

      See, I don’t think apathy does register as discontent. I think it registers purely as not caring, which means that the politicians assume you’re ok with them doing whatever they want. By not voting, you *allow* them the right to make that assumption. You may doubt that it gives them leave to do whatever they want, but in absence of further information about what you believe, you rob them of understanding what you *do* believe, which means they absolutely cannot serve your voice. In terms of changes they can effect, they must assume you’re happy with any choice they make, because they have no information to act otherwise.

      Even writing in — yes! — Andrew Twigg for president voices clearly that you would rather your own brother (or anyone, as the case may be) serve as president than any of the choices presented. This says much more clearly that you are not happy with the way they are doing things, which in turn pushes them the seek their constituents’ opinions on how they *do* want them to be doing things. I know it seems unlikely that one vote registers on such a scale, but part of it is principle, and part of it is the fact that if all people who didn’t vote out of dissatisfaction for all parties did vote for/write in someone else, it most certainly would register.

      Your vote is your right to send whatever message you want. By not voting, you don’t send a message of dissatisfaction; you just don’t send any message at all. Apathy may be worse than disgust, but it’s not as active or effective.

      No one can force you to vote; that’s the dichotomy of democracy. But democracy does not work without it. The crux of the form of government we have is that it relies on the people’s votes. In the whole world, in the 21st century, this is still rare. To have a voice of equal weight to everyone else’s when putting people in office, people who make decisions on a large scale, is a right that I think people in America take for granted sometimes. Not to say that *you* are — you have clearly put a lot of thought into this — but I think a lot of people do; they don’t think about the fact that not voting in itself undermines the strength of our government.

      Suffice it to say I am very excited you are voting! Can’t wait to watch the returns with you!

  2. Democracy doesn’t work unless everyone does it. Its very existence relies on the people making their voices heard.

    I believe in this on a fundamental, idelogical level, no politics involved. If someone says to me that s/he doesn’t support anyone on the ballot, I encourage that person to write in someone better. You have that right, and more than that, the obligation to the democracy of which you are a part. The entire point of our government is that the power rests with the people, and every voice is equally important. (except for that whole electoral college thing. Another time.)

  3. Pingback: Voter Guides and Election Day Links for Pittsburgh | I heart PGH

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