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Election 2012 Tue Mar 20 2012

Why I am Not Voting

Unless a last-minute change of heart overtakes me, this will mark the first election I miss since becoming eligible in September of 2000. Since then, I have voted in every primary, municipal, and general election I was eligible to vote in--though I do think one of my "provisional" ballots was thrown out because I voted in the wrong precinct after moving.

voteno.jpgMaking the decision not to vote was a difficult one, not cavalierly reached. Voting is both a duty and a right, to my mind, and I personally support universal, compulsory voting on the Australian model. That's not the system we have, though, and with each passing election the meaning of my vote has tranmogrified into something ugly: a negative speech act against the apparitions and shades conjured up by those nearer to me on the political spectrum--my supposed ideological allies--rather than for any principles I can actually support.

In other words, accepting the proposition that a vote is essentially an act of speech, the dictum that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, would apply. Perusing the sample ballot, I see little nice to say.

I do consider voting a duty, but in all honesty my compulsion to vote in each cycle was more motivated by partisanship than civic responsibility. I was a Democrat full of visceral dislike and distrust of Republicans, to the point of virulence. Like most partisans, I built a shabby intellectual structure to house what was really little more than a set of strong emotions. I saw historic Democratic sweeps in state and federal governments, historic elections; I saw local activists whom I knew personally and admired get elected to local office; I breathed sighs of relief when campaign season predictions of Republican governing apocalypses were narrowly avoided by key victories. Years passed. And there was little meaningful progress toward any fundamental change; not only that, but the case for fundamental change wasn't even being articulated. From my remote vantage, peering through the window into the halls of power, the pigs and the men were increasingly indiscernible one from another.

A vote against something is an act of desperation and weakness. It legitimizes a system of comparative justifications, where superficial or even reactionary policies and institutions are defended solely on the grounds that the immediately available alternative is worse. And while that's certainly often true--as frustrated as I am with President Obama on most issues, I have no doubt whatsoever that a President McCain would be "worse"--it isn't reason enough to vote--it isn't reason enough, more specifically, for an act of speech that puts force and legitimacy behind a candidate or a set of policies that I wholeheartedly disagree with.

I, like I'd wager you, have principles on civil liberties, criminal justice, civil rights, workers rights and property rights that the Democratic Party does not stand for, at least in practice. And what candidates do tend to agree with me on these issues, once elected, are stovepiped into a narrow range of action by powerful party leaders and executives.

Our two-party system means that I can either vote for candidates and policies I do not actually support, or risk candidates and policies I abhor winning out. But that really means lending my speech to something I don't believe in--this is the worst part of the two-party system drowning in money. It can pressure you into acts of mild hypocrisy out of fear.

For the first time, this petty act of intellectual dishonesty just doesn't feel worth it. I don't want to be bullied into voting because otherwise the boogeymen will come and get me in the night. I don't want to, for the umpteenth time, see men and women I lent my voice to do things destructive to things that are dear to me.

Until an independent and capable movement develops outside of the two party system to act on it to be actually responsive, voting in these elections will feel too much like being bullied, too much like negative speech, too much like an act of desperation and fear not befitting free people in a supposedly democratic society.

So I'm not voting today. No, that's no kind of solution to a huge problem. But it's easier on my conscience.

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Texe Marrs / March 20, 2012 12:15 PM

You won't be voting again for a long, long time.

In order for a third (or fourth, or fifth) party to be viable as anything other than a protest vote, the winner take all system has to be replaced with proportional awards. Only then can you have coalition style systems of governance. In order for this to happen a lot of state constitutions have to be re-written and a lot of special interests have to relinquish power.

This is polysci 101.

But really, the two parties couldn't be more stark. The GOP is (almost) exclusively Christian, exclusively white. The DNC is a much broader party.

Dutch101 / March 20, 2012 12:27 PM

Marrs, I heard the exact same argument about proportional elections put forward by one of my college professors, and he had been a long-standing, and well-respected US House member. I also think that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of that ever happening.

And Ramsin, you've done a very good job of articulating feelings that I largely share. To me, no party has everything right, and I too am very tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, in effect.

Nik / March 20, 2012 3:21 PM

If you "accept the proposition that a vote is essentially an act of speech" and yet still do not vote, you are essentially giving your voice to someone else.

You want to use your voice, your "act of speech," but then you willfully relinquish it to anyone - & everyone - else. Seems counter-intuitive & not nearly the protest of the system it is portrayed as here.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Don't like the candidates? Run. Don't like the candidates? Vote local. Don't like the candidates? Find someone you do like & get behind them 100%, through the whole process. Think things will be better once "an independent and capable movement develops outside of the two party system"? DEVELOP IT.

It's very VERY easy to complain about the process & then choose to abstain out of disdain rather than do the work involved to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Oh sure, you have just as much right to not vote as you do to vote, but by doing so, you just gave me your voice. Thanks. I'll be using yours & mine tonight after work when I punch my well-researched choices for local, state, judicial, & national office.

pratfall / March 20, 2012 10:45 PM

I voted Santorum, as a mini-opration chaos. It felt dirty, like eating McDonald's fries dipped in Mrs. Butterworth's, while kicking a kitten.

Ramsin / March 20, 2012 10:46 PM

Nik, repeating those cliches is not argumentation. When the problem is that elections merely send people into an intractable system, none of your suggestions have any meaning--and not voting does not exclude building a non-electoral movement to act on the parties and government. Which those of us who decline to vote are free to do. Which leaves your entire argument hollow.

Joe Schmoe / March 21, 2012 2:52 PM

If there isn't a judge you hate enough to go out an vote against, then you haven't lived in the county long enough. yi-yeah!

humanatee / April 17, 2012 3:44 PM

here is the problem i have with Nik's argument, which i hear time and time again from my politically obsessed friends. i will also say that i am almost 30 and have voted in both presidential and local elections many times. in fact, upon graduating high school i was really excited about being able to vote. i prided myself on being well informed before i cast my vote.

all the times i have voted, i have not seen any real changes in our political/government system that matter. any minute change that happens is insanely insignificant given the huge issues that are repeatedly (and often willfully) ignored. i also have no faith in any politician anymore, as even the ones who begin with somewhat pure intentions seem to be swayed into corruption in one way or another eventually. and i can tell you for sure i have not found a single politician that can accurately represent my opinions.

in any case, i finally decided i was going to ignore politics for awhile, and guess what. nothing changed in my life, EXCEPT that i felt like a more real, better person. why? because instead of focusing on political propaganda (which is from ALL sides now and cannot be avoided as far as i can tell) i started focusing on my actual LIFE. the real one, that has no political affiliations or agenda. awareness is a good thing, but we trick ourselves about what is important to pour our time and energy into. if politics truly seem like a worthy use of the precious moments of this short life for some people, good for them. for myself, it seems far more productive to simply work on cultivating myself as a good person. my personal opinion is that if as many people did that as do get involved in political arguments and debates, the world would (eventually at least) become a slightly better place.

ignatzh / June 6, 2012 12:10 AM

As a long term unemployed person who did everything he was supposed to in order to have a fair go, and who's voted (Democrat or third party alternative when it was available) I've come to the conclusion that George Carlin was right after all when he wrote: "I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote -- who did not even leave the house on Election Day -- am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created."

The only rational response to the rigging of the game by the two "Parties" (in reality, as Gore Vidal put it, one Party with two Right Wings)- so that there is no real political discourse in this country and absolutely no real choice, is for the American electorate to boycott the elections and make 2012 the lowest turnout election in the history of our benighted country. This should be followed by some solid, long term planning to gut both Parties and create a system that allows for Third Party participation. We need to start over with people who will get the money out of politics and open the election process to any and all. Only then will we have a democracy worth fighting for.

And bullshit on the comment regarding Republicans being an overwhelmingly "white" Party. Who gives a damn any more? If anything should have been learned by the Obama's first term it's that race doesn't matter in this country anywhere near as much as class. If you're poor, you're screwed, regardless of your race.

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