A Right, Not A Requirement

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

Every time political season rolls around, you hear them.

“You have to vote.”

“It’s your duty as an American to vote.”

“I have no respect for people who don’t vote.”

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

They’re those quips that people are so fond of saying, especially to those of us who don’t vote.

And you know what? They’re absolutely wrong.

The Constitution affords us the right to vote, but doesn’t require it to be a citizen. Therefore, just as much as I have the right to vote, I have the right not to. The latter is an option that I exercise in protest of the current system, which I believe to be flawed.

This post isn’t about the flaws in the system, or the reasons why I don’t vote (for that, see this post, this post, and this post) This post is a response to those people who say the above phrases, or ones like them.

“You have to vote.”

“It’s your duty as an American to vote.”

As I said before, the Constitution doesn’t require citizens to vote; it merely gives them the chance. Whether or not they choose to vote is entirely up to them. An ideal situation would be for every American to vote, and for every vote to count. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (there are some exceptions, which I’ll explain later).

“I have no respect for people who don’t vote.”

Really? Well, I have no respect for people who vote based solely on party lines (all-democrat and all-republican shouldn’t even be options on the ballot). I have no respect for people who vote without bothering to take at least a little bit of time to get to know the issues and politicians. I have no respect for people who vote without understanding how the system works.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

I hate this one. If you say this, you are truly stupid.

Since the Constitution is not conditional, the First Amendment applies regardless of whether or not I vote. I understand the implication of the statement; that I didn’t attempt to vote someone better into office, so who am I to complain about the situation? Shouldn’t the same be said of people who vote for a politician, only to later criticize that person’s policies? What about all of the people who voted for Bush? Should they not be allowed to complain about how he has been running this country because they didn’t vote for someone better?

Of course not.

It doesn’t matter if you voted for or against Bush, or if you didn’t vote at all. We’re all living in the lousy economy and we’re all allowed to bitch about it. That’s part of what makes this country so great.

Earlier I said that your vote doesn’t count, but that there are exceptions to this. In the presidential election, your single vote will never be the deciding factor (this is especially true depending on the state in which you live). In local matters, however, your vote does count (in the last race for governor here in Washington, Gregoire earned fewer than 200 votes over Rossi). Also, many of the propositions and initiatives pass by narrow margins, and they determine how your tax dollars are spent.

This year, I almost registered to vote. Mostly it was because of the propositions and initiatives, but early in the presidential campaign, Obama’s message of hope and change stirred me. As I grew more educated about his platform, the glimmer disappeared from my eyes and the desire to vote waned (don’t get me wrong though, I’m definitely glad that Obama beat McCain).

It’s very likely that, in the next election, I’ll vote. But I still refuse to pick candidates simply because they’re the lesser of two evils. If I don’t like either candidate, I’m writing in my own name.

What would it take to make me like and support a candidate? I’ll leave you with this quote from the musical, The Will Rogers Follies: “Don’t ask me what my platform is, I leave that stuff alone. For no one keeps their promises, as history has shown. I’ll run a clean campaign and that will be my winning card. Considering the stuff you’ve seen, well, that won’t be too hard.”

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  1. Well, as I’m sure you expected, here I am to criticize you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Let’s just get this out of the way: I do believe that it is everyone’s civic duty to vote. I understand that “civic” simply refers to one’s citizenship, which most interpret as meaning “being a member of a society.” However, I think that there should be two separate “levels of membership” (so to speak): citizen and civilian.

    As a citizen, you are informed and participate in the creation and maintenance of this country on both the national and local levels (and the way to do both those things? VOTE). As a civilian, you simply exist here. A citizen is active and intelligent, a civilian uses up oxygen and takes up space.

    Of course, one could also make the argument that voting is a civic duty simply because of the definition of democracy. As a democracy, the US wouldn’t exist if people didn’t vote. Therefore, there would be no citizenship in which to be a member if people didn’t vote. So, by not voting, you are effectively participating in the destruction of our society, which is the same as treason, which is the opposite of “civic duty”…multiply all that by negative one and you end up with voting = civic duty. ๐Ÿ™‚

    But, believe it or not, that’s not why I wanted to comment. There are actually two main points I wanted to rebut and then also throw out another argument you may be able to use in your defense.

    1. In the articles you referenced, an essential tenet was “your vote doesn’t count, anyway.” This is simply not true. I was going to say, “anyone who says this is stupid,” but figured I’d lay off the histrionics. Oh, wait. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Voting is an extensible system. Looking at the delta between two candidates is daunting, yes — the difference in votes between Obama and McCain, for instance, is over seven million. “See? SEVEN MILLION! My vote doesn’t count at all — it is but a raindrop amid a churning sea! Thus, I shall not vote.”

    But it’s not the delta that matters. It’s the collective will of the people.

    If you believe your vote doesn’t matter, you believe that NOBODY’S vote matters and thus you believe that NOBODY should vote. Hm, that’s a problem.

    Assume, for a moment, that nearly everyone shares your desire to be lazy…er, not vote (sorry, couldn’t resist). The only people who still thought voting was cool were Nazis. Uh-oh. Looks like the Nazi Party just won. Dangit.

    So, while I won’t say “people who believe their vote doesn’t matter are stupid”, I will say “people who believe their vote doesn’t matter can’t be bothered to expend the mental energy to look one step beyond themselves and are selfish AND stupid.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. The article by Jim Davies exists within what I’ll call The Circle of Idiocy. To condense a lot of what he says for hyperbolic humor: “don’t vote because not voting is the popular thing to do…most people don’t vote, therefore neither should you…don’t vote because the system is flawed…you see, most people don’t vote, and therefore the people who win an election are elected by a minority…that’s IMMORAL!”

    I’m not joking. The article literally does make all of those statements.

    If you don’t believe me, here are the ACTUAL quotes (cleaned up to avoid parenthetical statements and hanging references):

    “Not-voting is the popular thing to do. Anyone who likes doing what the majority does and being one of the winners, should therefore avoid voting.”

    “[Of the people who do vote, only] about half of those…vote for the victor, who then governs all 100% for the next 4 years; only in the fairyland of democratic theory can this be called ‘majority rule.'”

    “Is the system immoral?–certainly it is…It’s immoral because…it permits and promotes Minority Rule.”

    Did you have a nice journey around The Circle? I know I did! We traveled so far…and yet ended up exactly where we started. NIFTY!

    And now, to go against every fiber of my being and help you support your non-voting position.

    Perhaps the freedom to choose our government is analogous to the freedom to choose our religion. We can choose McCain or Obama. We can choose Christianity or Judaism (or, should I say Islam, just for fun). Or we can choose NOBODY, just as we can choose atheism.

    Just throwing it out there. I figured you’d like it.

    (Note: while I fundamentally disagree with you, we’ve been friends for too long for me to think you’re actually stupid, selfish or lazy…I was just having a little fun. Please add funny emoticons after all personal attacks.)

    Your cross-examination, sir! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Allow me to comment on one particular part of this post. You state that saying “You didn’t vote, you can’t complain” is akin to saying that one does not have the right to criticize those they voted for (you used people who voted for Bush, and then criticized him, as an example). Let me make an analogy here: say you asked me to plan your party for Saturday (which, after this comment, I still hope I’m invited to!). And I said I did not want to help. Then, on Saturday, all I do is criticize your planning. Do I have a right to do this? I don’t think so. But, say, I did agree to help, yet you ignored what I wanted to do and did your own thing. Would I have a right to be upset? I think so. This, I feel, is the difference. If an elected official that you voted for is not doing the job you wanted them to, then absolutely you should speak out. But, if you were not part of getting them into office in the first place, that’s your fault, not theirs.

    Hope the invite still stands! We’ll bring the Wii over ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. “I do believe that”

    Right, you belive it. I don’t. It’s your opinion and it isn’t shared by everyone.

    “As a democracy, the US wouldn’t exist if people didn’t vote.”

    Then it’s a good thing that people do vote, huh? I’m not advocating that everyone not vote, I’m just pointing out that I don’t and anyone who calls me less of an American for it is wrong.

    “by not voting, you are effectively participating in the destruction of our society”

    Because the politicians who voters have elected into office have been doing a great job of not destroying our society. /sarcasm

    You can’t seriously believe that inaction is equal to treason. Does that mean that, because McCain did’t win, voting for him was an act of sedition? -)

    “If you believe your vote doesn’t matter, you believe that NOBODY’S vote matters and thus you believe that NOBODY should vote. Hm, that’s a problem.”

    Again, this isn’t what I’m saying at all. People should vote. I should vote. Everyone should vote, they just shouldn’t expect their single vote to be the deciding factor in any vote ever. Even on the local level, if a race came down to a single vote, there would be a protracted legal battle to determine the winner รขโ‚ฌโ€ in other words, that single vote wouldn’t, in the end, be what decides who wins.

    If nobody voted, then yes, our country would fall apart. But we know how people think, and if one side realizes that no one is voting, they’ll suddenly all start voting because they’re guaranteed a win. In fact, you, with your Godwinian comment, touched on this idea. But everyone already realizes this, so people vote.

    “people who believe their vote doesn’t matter are stupid”, I will say “people who believe their vote doesn’t matter can’t be bothered to expend the mental energy to look one step beyond themselves and are selfish AND stupid.”

    What you seem to fail to realize is that my refusal to vote is for the greater good. It’s both to protect the system (because I am uninformed and feel an uninformed decision is worse than none at all) and to protest it (because I feel the current system is deeply flawed).

    “The article by Jim Davies exists within what I’ll call The Circle of Idiocy.”

    Overall, I’ll grant you that one. I don’t agree with the whole, “not voting is cool” thing. The system is flawed, however, and the other articles to which I link do a better job of explaining why.

    “we can choose NOBODY, just as we can choose atheism.”

    This is really my entire point, thus the title of the post. Just because I can vote, doesn’t mean I have to. Voting is another one of those things that has been drilled into our heads as required, like being Christian and being heterosexual. People are finally starting to realize that, no, you don’t have to believe what your parents believe, you’re allowed to have sex with whoever you want, and you can play half the game still get a whole snow cone (bonus points to those who get the reference).

  4. Your response cleared up a lot. We can be friends again. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I do agree with you when you say that our system is flawed. For instance, even though the person I wanted to win did win, the disparity between electoral votes and the popular vote is frightening. A nearly 2:1 win with respect to electoral votes represents only a 6% difference in the popular vote? What?

    I mean, the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when we didn’t have things like phones and the internet…but now? It’s outdated and wrong.

    And the whole binary thing is dumb.

    But, at the same time, I do realize how dangerous a President can be (see everything Bush has done), and thus choose to “play the game.”

    P.S. Brian Regan is pretty damn funny.

    P.P.S. Please, to anyone reading this, realize that the Godwin thing was done on purpose. I’m not that big a douche.

  5. @Mike – You absolutely would have the legally protected right to complain in either situation. The difference is that, in the first instance, you’d be a dick head.

    As a quick aside, if I did ask for your help then did my own thing, I would still be in the clear. It is, after all, my party and not yours. Social grace demands that I acknowledge your contribution, but does not require me to make use of it.

    What I’m saying is: “if you didn’t vote you can’t complain” basically translates into, “you didn’t attempt to keep Bush out of the White House, so keep your mouth shut.” But anyone who did vote for Bush, also did nothing to keep him out of the White House, so should be allowed to complain? The answer is yes, because the First Amendment still applies.

    This thought just occurred to me, but in a way, I did actually do something to keep Bush out of the White House: I didn’t vote for him.

    And yes, you’re still invited to the party on Saturday. -)

  6. “Your response cleared up a lot. We can be friends again.”

    Phew! -)

    “the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago”

    “And the whole binary thing is dumb.”

    These are my biggest problems with the system. I would love to see both of these change.

    “the Godwin thing was done on purpose”

    I think we take for granted how well we know each other. I understood that you were making a joke, but perhaps other people won’t. -)

  7. Also, I just want to point out what’s going on here: I wrote a blog post and we’re having a discussion!

    I’ve missed this. It’s good to be back. -)

  8. Oh…and the “all democratic” or “all republican” option on some ballots…that’s just…fuck me.

    People who do that are the incurious, idiotic scum of the earth. In fact, I’m giving that a name: if you constantly tow party line without thinking about who is actually the best candidate for the job, you are “pulling a Palin.” ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. It is good to be back! The power cord for the laptop finally arrived, and I can get my internet fix!

    Let me just say that I do believe it is your right to not vote, just as it is my right to vote. And, as a citizen of this country, you have a right to voice your opinion. I just feel that, because you did not participate in choosing who runs the country, your argument may not be viewed as valid by some. Not necessarily me, but some.

    And why wouldn’t you want my help in party planning? Remember last year’s Halloween party? That was awesome!

  10. And I agree: the “All Democrat” or “All Republican” options are idiotic, and anyone who actually checks that option is, as Kris said, “pulling a Palin.” I did vote mostly Democrat, but did throw my support behind at least two Republicans (including Secretary of State Sam Reed, who all of you should have voted for, as he is a huge proponent and advocate of the state archives system, and actually a pretty nice guy).

  11. Okay, I feel like it’s my turn to chime in on this topic.

    *(because I am uninformed and feel an uninformed decision is worse than none at all)*

    Thomas, I think this is the most important part of your entire argument and the reason I get so frustrated at people who choose not to be a part of the voting process.

    I think the time has come in our world that the excuse of “not being informed” can no longer fly. We live in a world with a tremendous abundance of information and ignorance is the evil that causes most of our world problems. If we could abolish ignorance I believe the world would have a relatively peaceful existence. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t disagree but without ignorance we could have thoughtful, logical, and reasonable discussions.

    I believe that people who choose not to vote are admitting their ignorance. The same ignorance that plagues Evangelical Christians, Militant Atheists, Extreme Islamic Terrorists, etc.

    However, I agree that the system is flawed. But if you know why it’s flawed and choose to express your frustrations by voting for a 3rd party, or simply skipping that part of the ballot, at least you’ve taken ignorance out of the equation.

    Now Thomas, I truly believe in my heart that you are far from ignorant. Which is why this situation perplexes me. But, I’m glad we are able to have a thoughtful, logical, and reasonable discussion about it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I agree that there is a tremendous abundance of information, and it is readily available to the masses thanks to the Internet.


    Which sources are reliable? We all know that we can’t listen to traditional “fair and balanced” media outlets, and most bloggers don’t have enough clout to be trusted. Those with a positive reputation still have a stilted point of view, so it doesn’t matter how much information is crammed into your noggin, you’ll still vote based on what you want to believe (since we can never know the truth).

    Take, for example, the Gregoire and Rossi ads. I saw a Rossi ad that said Gregoire let thousands of sex offenders go free, immediately followed by a Gregoire ad stating she had locked up more sex offenders than ever before. Clearly, one or both of them is lying (and since we’re talking about politicians, I’m inclined to go with the latter).

    My not being informed is largely because I don’t care. By that, I don’t mean that I don’t care about our country, or the economy, or my future childrens’ future. What I mean is that I’m so sick of the bullshit that goes along with campaigning, that I just don’t want to be exposed to it anymore.

    I hate campaign signs (I actually have a strong, negative emotional response when I see them, especially after the political season is over). I hate campaign ads (thankfully, I watch much less T.V.). I hate the lies, the mud slinging, and most of all, I hate the “us or them” attitude dragged out every political season.

    I don’t want to be a part of any of it, especially since I know there’s a better way of doing things.

    No politician has inspired me to look into the issues (although Obama came very close). None of them have given me hope that the process will change. None of them have stirred in me that sense of national pride that makes me want to put on blue jeans and a white T-shirt, bake an apple pie, tattoo a flag on my forehead, and proudly proclaim that they have my vote.

    So yes, I’m admitting that not only am I ignorant, but that I know I don’t have to be. I know I could do the research, but to what end?

    If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, then I’m content to be sane.

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