For those of you who will vote today, or have already voted—no matter for whom or what you’re voting—I want to thank you, as someone whose right to vote has been stripped from him.
For those who don’t, I want to make a few points.
First and foremost, something you might not have considered: If you can vote, but choose to abstain, you are effectively casting a vote for every candidate with whose platform you would be least likely to agree. How does this work? It’s very simple: If you informed yourself and voted—even if you cast your vote along straight party lines, without any deeper thought involved—your vote would be counted and would balance some alternative vote for the candidates or issues you wouldn’t have chosen. By not voting, you unmask a vote that would have been opposed the one you would have cast. By not being present, by not voting, you are allowing those who disagree with you to put forward their side unopposed.
Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps those who refuse to vote should have their least-favorite candidates elected. Perhaps this is a form of justice. But if so, it’s a justice that doesn’t merely affect you, but harms all those with whom you might agree about any issue.
People give many reasons for not voting, and some of them are understandable. In many places, specific laws and policies have been enacted that preferentially discourage people of particular political dispositions from voting. That this happens is reprehensible, and it is to counter just such violations of the spirit of America that it is urgent that all people who can vote take the trouble to do so.
But many people who choose not to vote simply make excuses for what is ultimately just laziness. It’s too difficult, the polling places are too far away, the needs of everyday life get in the way, all the candidates on all sides are corrupt, my vote doesn’t make any difference anyway. These arguments seem to carry weight—for those who make them—partly because there is at least a grain of truth in each of them.
It can be difficult to vote. Depending on one’s circumstances, getting to a polling place can be a chore, especially if one doesn’t have a car. Sometimes this circumstance has been deliberately engineered, and sometimes it’s just one of those random imperfections of reality.
Voting can also require taking time off work. For those paid by the hour, this can entail loss of income which they are ill-equipped to bear. Some will even face threats to their continued employment if they insist upon taking time off to vote, and that such threats happen is a travesty and an insult to the spirit of this country.
To change such things, however, the people interested in changing them must run for and be elected to office, and this will only happen if those who face difficulties find ways around them to the best of their ability. This may require absentee voting, this may require advance time-off planning, including setting extra money aside to make up for the hours of lost wages entailed in exercising this crucial right.*
As for the point that both sides are corrupt: even if true, it’s vanishingly unlikely that both sides are equally corrupt or equally reprehensible. If you don’t vote for the candidate who comes closest to your ideal, then you’re voting for the one who is farthest away. (See my post, “The good/evil number line.”)
The feeling that one’s vote is unimportant can be powerful; each citizen is just one of hundreds of millions in America. The sense that by voting one is just spitting in the ocean can be oppressive, especially where Gerrymandering has ensured that in certain districts, votes for particular political candidates do have less influence on outcomes than they should. But even Gerrymandering can be overcome by a strong enough voter turnout, and only by making that happen can it and other such injustices be overturned.
Looked at honestly, though, the character of many people’s reasons for not voting seems like a child saying that his dog ate his homework, when really, the homework was just difficult, and he had other things on his mind so he didn’t do it.
The homework may be difficult. There may be many, seemingly more urgent, matters at hand. But if you don’t vote, you’ve given a free vote to those who disagree with you politically. They will get out and vote. And their vote will count…all the more so because of the absence of your vote.
*We treat this right rather poorly here in the US, which is something of a puzzle when you think about it. There are nations on this planet where voting is not merely a right but a legal obligation. This may be carrying things a bit too far, but there are also countries where election days are national holidays, where workers cannot be forced to work on polling days unless they provide essential services, as with those who work in hospitals, fire departments, police departments, and the like. It seems like an idea worth trying.