Young Americans are frequently accused of being apathetic about politics because, as a group, they don't vote as much as older people. So with the political season approaching its climax, various concerned organizations are making an effort to get young people registered to vote.
In its appeal for participation, the official “Rock the Vote” website informs: “Your vote is your voice. Use it. One vote can make the difference. If you don't vote, it's just like voting for the winner.”
Put that way, voting sounds pretty important.
But what if we think rationally about what they're saying?
I can imagine circumstances under which “one vote can make the difference.” Three people deciding on what to order for lunch, for example. Or a U.S. Senator sometimes his vote can make a difference.
But an ordinary citizen voting in a national election? Not a chance.
Consider the numbers. Last time around, the top two candidates for president received 47,401,185 and 39,197,469 votes, respectively.
So what if I had done what some would call my civic duty and cast a vote for, say, Dole? He still would have lost, and I would have been out the time it cost me to vote for him.
And what if I'd become an activist (a really good one) and convinced 7 million of my fellow citizens to vote for Dole? He still would have lost, and I would have wasted lots of time for what?
To say that “not voting is just like voting for the winner” is silly. Either way, the person who will win, will do so regardless of what you, as an individual, do. So, sure, not voting is like voting for the winner. It's also like voting for the loser. It's also like writing in your own name and voting for yourself. Every option has an equal impact on the outcome none at all.
So why expend any energy on something in which the result is completely beyond my control? I'd rather invest my effort in things that will directly affect and improve my life.
At this point, you might wonder: “What if everyone thought that way? How could democracy function?”
I'm inclined to think that if everyone did that much rational thinking we'd all be a lot better off. But is it even an important question, as you think about the issue of voting? After all, you only have to decide for yourself. The rest of the world will make its own decisions, with or without you.
For someone to tell you that “your vote is your voice” is demeaning. Your voice is complex and wonderful, something unlike anything anyone else possesses. Reducing all that is your voice to a vote turns you from a unique human being into a digit in a ones column. Who wants to be that?
Of course, if you want to spend your scarce, valuable time participating in the political process, for whatever reason, that's your business. If casting a vote will make you feel good, go for it. You can't possibly hurt anyone else with it, because it's powerless.
And if you're one of those allegedly apathetic nonvoters, take heart. Remember that your life is yours, and you don't owe a minute of it to exercises in futility based upon other people's ideas about patriotic duty. On Election Day, you can exercise your voice in some more meaningful way, and, with a clear conscience, leave the voting to those with nothing better to do.
This article originally appeared in the October 6, 2000, edition of the Grove City College Collegian, as "Don't Rock the Vote."