Act Responsibly: Donít Vote!
by Wendy McElroy
Responsibly: Donít Vote! Thatís not a bumper sticker youíre likely
to see in coming weeks. Instead the ballot will be revered like
a religious object and voting will be declared a duty. But what
if the ballot is just one more government form to fill out? What
if the most politically powerful act is to say "no" by
tearing the form in half?
November, most people wonít "do it" in the voting booth
despite attempts to shame them. They will spend the time on activities
that enrich their lives: buying groceries, playing with children,
catching up on work. Even the recent primary, which was supposed
to reflect a galvanized and outraged Democratic Party, drew only
about 11.4 percent of those eligible to vote. The Republican primary
fared worse with a record low turnout of about 6.6 percent.
war itself canít motivate people to put a checkmark in a box, it
is time to consider non-voting from a radically different perspective.
Maybe non-voters are right. After all, if most people refuse to
buy a product with which theyíre acquainted, do you blame them or
the product? Politicians have only themselves to blame if people
are not buying what they sell.
knee-jerk response is to accuse non-buyers of apathy. In many cases,
this may be true but it isnít the non-voterís fault if he thinks
a ballot is irrelevant to his life. Gerrymandered voting districts
that almost ensure results, preppy and prepped candidates, a two-party
system that restricts access to alternate voices, candidates in
debt to corporate sponsors and lobbyists, campaign promises that
dissolve, corrupt procedures which make many believe Al Gore is
the rightfully-elected President. The notoriously corrupt New York
politician Boss Tweed once said, "You may elect whatever candidates
you please to office, if you will allow me to select the candidates."
In short, by the time names are on the ballot, the fix is in. And
apathy becomes a reasonable response.
is a gauge of how deeply alienated the average person is from the
political establishment. Sometimes political disgust converts non-voting
from an act of indifference to one of protest through which people
express a word that all politicians fear: "no." Not just
"no" to them but to the entire process.
who chuckles at the old joke, "Donít vote, it only encourages
them," connects on some level with the idea of making a statement
through consciously not voting. But, for most non-voters, such protest
if it exists at all is on an emotional level. That is, a sense of
disgust or disillusionment with the system makes them shy away from
participating in it.
for whom non-voting is conscious statement of protest generally
argue as follows:
check mark or the punched chad on a ballot means "yes"
it is the consent you give to the electoral process by virtue of
participating. No wonder all candidates agree on one point: you
should vote. They are like religious leaders who urge you to worship
at the church of your choice. First and foremost, politicians want
you to sanction the process by which they acquire power and money
because, without that sanction, they have no legitimacy.
is commonly said, "If you donít vote, you have no right to
complain about the outcome." The opposite is true. By playing
the game, voters agree to the rules. Only those who donít play and
withhold their consent have a right to complain about the outcome,
especially since the winner will have his hand in the non-voterís
is not an act of political freedom. It is an act of political conformity.
Those who refuse to vote are not expressing silence. They are screaming
in the politicianís ear: "You do not represent me. This is
not a process in which my voice matters. I do not believe you."
has a rich and long history through which the dissenting electorate
has expressed everything from religious convictions to political
cynicism. That history has been conspicuously ignored. If people
truly believe voting is important, they should use their mouths
to do more than insult non-voters and utter election slogans. They
should discuss and debate the issue with those who disagree.
on primary voting levels
McElroy [send her mail] is
the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles,
including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century
(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).
© 2004 Wendy McElroy