The Case for Not Voting

I know, I know, itís a notion that a lot of politically minded people refuse to entertain. As a loyal voter, not voting wasnít something Iíve even considered until I recently joined a discussion with about thirty young activists. Though it was not unanimous, the overwhelming sentiment amongst the group was that they would not be casting ballots this fall. And for the first time in my life, I didnít view it as an irresponsible mindset. Even if itís an ideology you wonít agree with, itís a perspective worth hearing. Here is the case they presented:

Although voting is meant to be an empowering process, it is ultimately disempowering because the system gives leaders the power to make decisions on our behalves. We like to tout ourselves as a democracy, but more accurately we are a republic and acknowledge that fact in our Pledge of Allegiance.

Perhaps having leaders make our decisions for us wouldnít be so bad were there an actual choice. Currently, citizens are essentially given just two options when voting. The two major parties have a stranglehold on the system by presenting themselves as the only real options and shutting out other candidates from debates and the general discourse.

Whatís worse is that these leaders are bought. Corporations can now pump unlimited amounts of money into campaigns, and with the candidate who spends the most money almost always winning, elections are purchased by the elite. Surely they wouldnít invest millions of dollars in the outcomes if they didnít expect something in return.

The result? Poverty runs rampant, while the rich get richer. Fraudulent bankers are not prosecuted. Education is an afterthought. Both parties lead us through an unceasing series of wars. An emerging police state quells anyone who speaks out, while the mass media, owned by the same corporations who buy the elections, refuses to report on the corruption. As massive environmental problems escalate, neither party is doing enough to divert us from catastrophe. Can we afford to support a system that will not address these problems?

So why then, in a system that so many acknowledge is faulty, if not completely broken (see this Care2 poll), do we keep trying to vote our way out of it?

The activists argued that voting was a form of legitimatizing the corruption. When they cast a vote, they feel it gives the impression that they had a say when they really did not. They do not wish to be complicit in a system that oppresses the masses and wages war. As they see it, if everyone stopped voting, the same authority would continue, and it would demonstrate how powerless the populace really has been all along.

In the above video, student activists struggle to decide whether to vote.

That said, while most of the activists do not intend to vote for national candidates, some of them are willing to make exceptions by voting for trusted local candidates or, here in California, taking a stand ballot measures, hoping to end the three strikes law (Prop. 36), preventing corporate money from having more sway on elections (Prop. 32), and starting to label genetically modified food (Prop. 37).

One thing the activists agreed on was that it is not enough to simply not vote. Not voting itself should be a political statement. Whether principled non-voters burn their ballots or rally near polling places, they want to make certain that their voices are heard so they are not construed as apathetic. That is not to say that they necessarily label others who do not vote as apathetic either. They feel a lot of people who choose not to vote already feel disenfranchised at some level and that the system does not work for them regardless of the outcome and that is why they choose not to participate.

Not voting is definitely a radical concept, particularly when a lot people will inform you that youíre not even allowed to vote the way you want. Try telling someone that youíre not interested in voting for Obama again and theyíll say itís a waste of a vote, or a vote against women. When I bring up Obama killing hundreds of children in drone attacks abroad, appealing the decision each time a judge finds the NDAA ruling to indefinitely detain citizens unconstitutional, appointing Monsanto executives to the FDA, and accepting record amounts of Wall Street campaign dontations, they call it a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. I agree that at any single moment, it makes sense to vote for the lesser of two evils. But how many times can you resign yourself to doing that? At what point do you decide to no longer participate in a system you acknowledge to be evil?

I remember when the Occupy movement kicked off a year ago, a friend said, ďI just want to know how many of those people vote. I donít want to hear their complaints if theyíre not going to vote.Ē As Iíve come to find, these are activists who protest and engage in direct actions on a daily basis, and to dismiss them for rejecting what they feel is a false sense of democracy seems shortsighted. How can you champion the citizenship of someone who shows up to vote on local candidates they know next to nothing about other than a party affiliation and then otherwise disengages until the next election over those who commit their lives to improving their community and society?

Despite the activistsí compelling arguments, I do still intend to vote next month. Iím not naÔve enough to think that voting will change anything, but Iím also not confident enough to think that voting couldnít be part of the solution. I know our system needs change, but Iím not yet sure whether that change will come in the form of reform or revolution. As an ally to both solutions, Iím all for a diversity of tactics. So I will cast a protest vote of reform for a third party candidate (admittedly, itís funny to call a candidate I genuinely like a ďprotestĒ vote, but with the pervasive either/or mentality, any vote for someone outside of the two major parties is a symbol of dissent), but then I will spend far more time elsewhere pushing for the change this country needs. Whether or not you decide to vote, your civic duty should extend far beyond the ballot box.


Related Stories:

Young People Aren’t Motivated to Vote

Vote – It’s Not a Right, It’s a Responsibility

Obama Wins Primaries But Protest Votes Are High


Photo: Tenny!/flickr


Connie B.
Connie B5 years ago

To those of you who say that we who choose to not vote in a particular race, albeit national, local, or whatever (because the candidates are not worthy of our votes and don't reflect our values) don't have the right to complain ... you've bought into the lies that being a good citizen simply requires that you vote and that it doesn't matter for whom you vote, just vote. That's asinine. There are other better ways of being a good citizen and taking appropriate action to improve our communities. I frequently support *worthy* candidates in districts other than my own by making monetary contributions, phone banking on their behalf, and so on. I engage in volunteer activities which help the local, national and world situation. I think this is more valuable than the mindless act of casting my vote for a stupid or corrupt candidate. It's my right to complain when I see wrongs being done, and it's my duty as a citizen and a human being to take action -- but if voting isn't the answer, then I look for other ways to make a difference.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain!

Robert K.
Robert K5 years ago

If you think that not voting for "the lesser of two evils" is wrong and voting for someone, no matter how good they may be is to believe that you're doing the honorable thing, you may very well may be doing far more harm that you can imagine.

Maybe if you live in, say, California, solid blue, or Oklahoma, solid red, there is nothing rong with that and in the very long term it has a small chance of helping, but if you live in a battleground state, not voting for a third party candidate translates as a vote for the greater of two evils. And in this election, clearly, Romney is the worst presidential candidate in American history.

Connie B.
Connie B5 years ago

My close friends are shocked when I tell them that, this year, I will not compromise and vote for "the lesser of two evils," I will not vote for a particular candidate simply because the other candidate is worse. My best friend asked me how I could "waste my vote" that way. But I think she forgot that, by voting, we are saying we approve of that candidate, we are saying that candidate represents us. So my answer to her, and to anyone else who says that casting a vote, no matter how poor the choice of candidates, is our responsibility as citizens, is that that it would truly be wasting my vote to minimize its value by compromising. This year I will vote my conscience and so will not vote for any candidate whose actions are not congruent with my own principles.

Rachael N.
Rachael Neats5 years ago

I have always been a registered voter, I have had people drilling into my head that "my vote counts." As a floridian I am not so confident that it does. Our electoral college is NOT legally bound to vote as we so. They are ethically motivated to do that but do not legally have to, So tell me again that my vote actually counts. I will not vote someone into office whom i believe to be a horrible option. So far I have not seen any good options until recently. I will vote for third party progressives. I will NOT conform to the perverted "democracy' norms to satisfy the disillusioned peoples idea that my voice counts when I am only allowed to voice it for one of two candidates. It is an illusion of freedom, not a reality as so many try to tell me.

Proposition 32 is not what it seems. Prop. 32 promises 'political reform' but is really designed by special interests to help themselves and harm their opponents."
"Business Super PACs and independent expenditure committees are exempt from Prop. 32’s controls. These organizations work to elect or defeat candidates and ballot measures but aren’t subject to the same contribution restrictions and transparency requirements for campaigns themselves. A recent Supreme Court decision allows these groups to spend unlimited amounts of money. Prop. 32 does nothing to deal with that. If Prop. 32 passes, Super PACs, including committees backed by corporate special interests, will become the major way campaigns are funded. These grou

Lee Witton
5 years ago

Hi Alex - oh trust me, I do what I can but you know, those who come here with their talking points they hear from Fox and read from their selective sites that appeal to low information voters, is what they are interested in, not facts. Haven't you noticed the same bloggers who spew the same right wing talking points over and over again. They have no interest in putting any effort into researching any given political topic.

Robert K.
Robert K5 years ago

Mary Beth said: " After all, no one belongs to the Whigs or Know-Nothings anymore..."

Excuse me, but both those parties were incorporated into today's Republican party.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

Stop admiring these smirking parasites and giving them free publicity and credence. No one likes them but they are forced on you and you have no choice but their choice, and you believe them, and most of all, you take these fools seriously!
We should be voting for Policies and not for people. If every other persons job can be taken over by computers why not them? I personally will not be happy until I see a computer take a politicians job!
Politicians are less useful than my neighbours dog and considerably noisier, but while my neighbours dog costs me nothing and lives in a kennel. These bastards live in mansions paid by us! Yet they will not answer to me!
People'll look at this and say; 'Maaaad! We need politicians!' But do we? Really? And if we do. So much? Even when they're proved to be idiots? They took the place of the kings and the feudal lords and now instead of them being our servants they are our rulers! I think that they and their schemes are just pernicious Memes' that we have yet to deal with.

Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

To Lee:

Regarding low information voters. Why not take the approach to do all you can to help these voters learn more, gain more information?

Post comments, write articles, email your friends and family - and ask them to email their friends and family - and ask people to dig for themselves. If they can receive email, they can look into the details of each candidate's actions and plans, and learn for themselves which candidate will do a better job.

We have to help people to help our country!

Vote, as if your life depends upon it. It does!

Alex H.
Alex H5 years ago

My response to Holli C;

Forgive me, please, but ... I realize that the President may not fix your own personal problems - and I know that he will not fix mine, as I've been out of work four years - but Obama is trying to fix the country and, given how W Bush left it, he needs more time. Especially with the GOP having taken an oath to block he every attempt to make things better.

To throw your vote away on a third party candidate, or not even vote, is the wrong approach. Even if you only want to complain about how things are, you won't be able to say: I didn't vote for him (Romney) or I voted for Obama, but he's not doing enough.

Voting for a third party or withholding your vote means you can't even gripe about 'stuff.' Remember, the Tea Party was a third party and look at them: Ultra Right Wing-nut Conservatives; people Reagan Republicans would never recognize as Republicans!

Please, vote as if your life depends upon it. It does!