There has been a lively discourse on LewRockwell.com concerning whom to vote for, or whether or not to vote at all. Gene Callahan, Bob Murphy, Gary North, and Harry Browne, among others have given their learned opinions on this subject. Lew Rockwell has generously allowed me to give my view below.
The purpose of political activity is to gain control of governmental activity. Governmental activity today primarily comes in two related flavors, constituency herding and rent seeking. Constituency herding consists of taking wealth from the general population and redistributing it among various groups to buy their votes. Rent seeking consists of taking wealth from the general population and directing it to small interest groups in return for campaign contributions and future kickbacks. To keep the public from recognizing this state of affairs political dialogue is reduced to a series of half-truths and outright lies. In this atmosphere it is difficult to be involved in any election without becoming ethically challenged.
Thus politics is like a sewer. One cannot enter into political activity without getting slimed. The residual of this slime is that anyone who has even run for office cannot be truly trustworthy. There is only the very rare Ron Paul or Harry Browne that are the exceptions that make the rule.
As some people say they believe in God but not organized religion, I believe in good government without organized parties. The Democrats and Republicans are not worthy of the slightest consideration. In many ways I do sympathize with the Libertarian and Constitution parties, but I can't bring myself to vote for their candidates or any other ones. As far as voting goes the one sympathy I can act on, following Gary North, is to vote against all government bond issues.
You might think that my views are too cynical and negative. A compelling argument maintained by my brother is that our forefathers fought for the right to vote and we should not renounce this legacy. Furthermore, if we do nothing politically how can the system ever be improved? In fact, I think non-voting is an optimistic and positive political act that could resurrect what the founders originally created.
The gist of the situation is that limited, constitutional government is nonexistent and no politician can be trusted. So how can change be affected? Violence is not an option. In fledgling, so-called democracies like Afghanistan and Iraq it is generally conceded that there is some quorum of votes necessary to give legitimacy to the new governments. Why can't the inverse occur? Why can't we delegitimize our government through a no confidence non-vote?
The quantitative question to be considered is what percentage of the electorate must participate to make an election legitimate. There is probably no a priori answer. It certainly depends on the time and place. Specific examples or judgments are not widely available but some do exist. The various states require a minimum percentage of votes from the previous election to recognize parties that range from as much as 20% in Connecticut to as low as 1% in West Virginia. In Russia for some Duma elections a minimum of 25% of the registered voters must participate to make the election valid. A former Conservative government in the UK proposed a referendum for Scotland and Wales. To be enacted the referendum had to secure a majority of at least 40% of the registered (Scottish or Welsh) voters, whether they participated in the election or not. If less than that percentage turned out to participate in the referendum or even if the total favorable vote came to less than that, the measure failed.
There is no legislated minimum participation for presidential elections. Nobody knows the precise percentage of non-voters that will be necessary to provoke true reform, but when it happens I can imagine something akin to the 1989 revolutions in Czechoslovakia and East Germany occurring here. We don't have a wall to bring down, thank goodness, but perhaps something else as spontaneous and magnificent will occur like an en masse resignation of the staff of the IRS.
So you see, non-voting is not cynical and defeatist. To the contrary, it is positively optimistic. I am ready to donate my time and money to Non-Registration Drives. Instead of getting out the vote, we can get in the non-vote. Believe it or not, the movement has already started. This tentatively hopeful bumper sticker is now available that even I might display: "If we all stop voting, will they all go away?"
October 16, 2004