i was in college when the whole “Vote or Die” campaign was going on, a movement largely to try and get Bush out of office. Understandable. I was sort of interested, sort of galvanized. It probably got me to pay attention a little more than I might have otherwise, to critically examine my vote. I should note that 2004 was the first Presidential election I was eligible to vote for.
I ended up not voting in the 2004 election. I did vote in the 2008 election. I did not vote in 2012. I have never voted in a midterm election, outside of specific ballot propositions I felt strongly about (i.e. gay marriage equality). I do this because I apply critical thought to my vote – I believe the right to vote is just that, a right, and should be treated with a certain amount of respect. In the end, a democracy is as good as its populace – the better the vote, the better the democracy. But what are we supposed to do when the democracy begins to erode, and the options provided are insufficient? That’s become my major concern – the options we’re presented between candidates are shockingly subpar, to the point that people commonly refer to “choosing the lesser evil” when it comes to the vote. I cannot stand for that.
Voting is an integral part of a democracy; it’s the part where the populace basically implicitly extends permission to those in power, via the vote. We put out our vote, and by doing so, we claim responsibility – or at least implicit agreement – over the system in place. By voting, we take part in a process, therefore validating said process. If we vote, we are party to the results. And as the political system of America continues to slowly crumble, pebble by pebble, people keep voting. Not only do people keep voting, but I see more voting propaganda than I’ve ever seen before. Not vote? GASP! What sort of person thinks like that?
Here’s the thing. I don’t always vote. I abstain because it is my right to abstain, and I believe it is especially important to abstain when you cannot support the options given. Continuing with what I said above, I believe that the only way to truly affect change in the modern democracy is to abstain from it. Think about it. We can talk all we want about the vote, but if both candidates end up being hyperpartisan buffoons who can’t begin to imagine life on Main Street and are clearly bought by Wall Street, what’s the best solution? Is it to trot out 30% to vote for one or the other? Is it to write in some hapless third-party candidate who won’t win? I think it’s simply to not vote. Is that unreasonable to you? To think that situation is possible? Because Congress has a 15-20% approval rating last time I checked, and the country re-elected more than 90% of their Congressmen. Isn’t that the definition of insanty – to repeat the same action and expect a different result? And yet, here we are.
Regardless of how powerful those in power may be, they require the vote. It’s a critical part of the American democratic process, and it’s a crucial part of the half-illusion that the people have any control over anything. But voting has largely become a sideshow – it’s almost entirely symbolic, because the game is rigged between powerful candidates that aren’t that different from each other, and while they may speak to Main Street on the campaign trail, the truth is that the lobbyists run the show. Even the most promising of candidates end up owned by lobbyists in the end, it seems. So how do we fight that?
We fight it by not voting. That might sound radical, but go with me here. Voting is of huge symbolic importance. Per above, it’s the people’s implicit agreement to the system as it is. As long as we vote, we take part in and honor the system as it is. And the system, I think most people would (hopefully) say, is failing. Sure, it’s not terrible bad, but it’s not working as intended. The only change? Stop voting.
Really. Stop voting. Or just vote on what’s important to you – like state/region/city proposals that actually will affect your life. But stop voting for people, for characters on TV. Stop giving them power. You want that power back? Take it back by not voting. Think about it as an observer. If the candidates suck and only 15% come out to vote, does it mean anything? Not really. But imagine for a moment, that there are two terrible candidates… and everyone wakes up, and no votes end up tallied. The system is completely predicated on the vote. The system stops without the vote. The greatest message we have is our vote. Take it back.
There’s a reason that voting propaganda is going up and up during this hyperpartisan era of politics. That reason is because the powerful realize how important the vote is. They want people voting. They especially want dumb people voting. Sorry to anyone offended by that, but let’s face it – how many people actually educate themselves on the issues? Did you read up on your Congressman and his opponent in the recent midterm election? Can you give me a detailed synopsis of what both of them stand for, what their primary initiatives would be? Because if you can’t, you’re an irresponsible voter.
Just because something is a right doesn’t mean it’s an automatic given – these things often have to be earned and worked for. Rights are ideals, things to honor and strive for. We have a right to the pursuit of happiness; that doesn’t guarantee happiness. We have the right to marry; it doesn’t guarantee a husband or wife for everyone. We have the right to vote; it doesn’t mean everyone should vote. I support some sort of voter qualification act, be it an online exam or something else readily available and accessible. The founding fathers never meant for all men to vote; they intended a republic, not a democracy. I disagree with denying the vote based on things like gender or race, of course; but I do think there should be a qualifying metric – the country would be the better for it.
But this will never come from the top – the people in power like the system as it is. There’s a class of people who have gotten incredibly rich by manipulating the system, and they continue to do so right now. And they want everyone voting. They want people who react to soundbytes and hysteria and don’t take the time to research. I think about my ex-wife, who had many lovely qualities, but one thing that bugged me to no end – she voted. Not once in our marriage did we ever have a constructive discussion on politics; she didn’t like to talk about it and she didn’t take time to educate herself on it. I don’t mind not talking politics with a partner, but I’d hope they’d be knowledgeable about their world. Anyway, she always voted. I’d ask her why – “Because my daddy always told me I should.” That was her reason. And to her credit, she’d do a minor crash course on the issues prior to an election, but nothing detailed enough to go far past the soundbytes. To be fair, she did come from a pretty liberal family that tended to vote the party line, and that’s a very similar problem to what I’m describing right now, besides. Vote because you know what you’re voting for; not because you’re voting the way you always vote, or how your mom voted, or because you heard a soundbyte, or because a celebrity filmed a hip commercial. Respect your vote – it’s more powerful than you think.
I always think of Dead Poets Society when I think about this. There’s a scene about conformity that is probably my favorite scene in the movie. Robin Williams’ character takes his class out to the courtyard, and he tells them all to walk. He places no restrictions on them, telling them to walk however they feel like; they have the right to walk. After a bit, he notices Charlie leaning against a pillar, and asks him if he’ll be joining the exercise. With a grin, Charlie responds – “exercising the right not to walk.” Williams smiles and nods. “Thank you, Mr. Dalton. You just illustrated the point.” And that’s my point here, in this post. The right not to vote is just as important as the right to vote. Knowing when not to vote is just as important as knowing when to vote. Do not let anyone tell you that you should vote, or that you have to vote; if anything, remind them that they are not required to pick between two uninspiring candidates. After all, as soon as everyone has to vote, is required to vote, the vote loses its power. Never let it come to that.