Not Voting and Proud

Don't throw away your life; throw away your vote


Today, I'm joining a near majority of eligible voters in expressing our deepest values and thoughts regarding the choices presented us in our democracy: by not voting.

Since 1976, only once have more than 55 percent of eligible voters voted—and in 1996 fewer than 50 percent did. Although many, almost most, of us do it, there are always voices attempting to shame us about not voting. If we fail to exercise the franchise, the Statue of Liberty will shed one fat tear, or P. Diddy will kill us.

But the non-voting should not skulk in the shadows. We have solid, well-nigh unimpeachable reasons for the choice we refuse to make on election day.

First, voting is futile. It would be a mathematical miracle if our vote actually decided the result of an election. And aren't we all told, when we contemplate voting for a Libertarian or a Nader, that doing so is "wasting our vote" because the third party candidate "can't win"? This means causing a victory is the only way not to waste your vote.

But the result of any national election will be the same regardless of whether, or how, any individual votes. For your vote to be decisive, you would have to be a single deciding vote in the single state whose electoral votes decide the election—so unlikely it's barely worth contemplating.

As the 2000 election showed, it's not only effectively mathematically impossible that one vote could matter: it is politically impossible as well. Imagine the recounts, margins of error, and eventual Supreme Court decision if by some miracle the presidency hung on one vote.

Thus, the act of voting has no possible direct personal benefit, even if you actually wholeheartedly support everything you expect from a candidate. But your expectations, as George W. "no nation building" Bush has proven most recently, will have little relation to what the candidate will actually do.

This casts strong doubts on the fallback position of the dedicated voter: that even if it isn't decisive, voting is expressive, a way to feel part of the larger community, to add one small voice to a loud chorus of cheering. But remember: with politicians, you don't even really know what you are cheering for.

Defending non-voting in bars across this great land, I often hear the ultimate "shut up"—that if you don't vote, you have no right to complain about politics or society. The reality is the exact opposite: By voting, you are playing a game whose rules are that the majority vote winner gets to control the reins of government, in all its unspeakable power. If you complain about the results of the game you chose to play, you're just being a sore loser—or winner.

But what if you believe that neither "winnable" candidate deserves power? Or that the whole game of majority-rule giving someone all the powers of the modern American state to wage war, arrest, tax, and regulate is inherently illegitimate? Then, don't vote, and complain all you want.

No American is responsible for the voting behavior of our countrymen; so don't worry for a moment about what would happen "if everyone thought that way"? (If you did control thousands of votes, the math might make it worth voting. But you don't.) We each have only one vote, and only one November 2, 2004, in our precious lives.

So, this November 2, do the right thing for America: go to work and do a good job. Clean up some garbage on your street. Help a neighbor out. Call your mother, for goodness' sakes.

Sure, actually doing something specific and practical to better your life, or your community, isn't as easy as casting a ballot once every couple of years. But it is more rewarding in the end than wasting even a second of your time and energy giving yourself a struck-by-lightning chance of maybe putting one particular guy in an office, where he'll do whatever he wants regardless of what you thought you were trying to support by voting for him. If you want to make a difference in the world, please try. But don't be fooled into thinking voting is a way to do so.