by Benjamin Studebaker
Have you noticed that it has become completely socially acceptable to berate people for choosing not to vote? For supporters of democracy, it is often common practise to call non-voters names, to assume that there are no good reasons not to vote and that all non-voters are in some way bad people, or that they don’t matter. I call this near-universal belief in the moral value of the vote “voting fascism”, because it suppresses dissenting opinions and viewpoints aggressively. I am not arguing that all people who vote are fascists, but that people who condemn other people for not voting are repressing a certain set of political perspectives and viewpoints. To make this argument, I will use as an example yourexcusesucks.com, a website that arms voters with arguments with which to attack the character and decisions of non-voters.
Yourexcusesucks.com lists eight common reasons people give for not voting:
- The vote is statistically insignificant.
- I am opposed to the democratic system.
- I don’t want to spend my time that way.
- Voting is too complicated.
- I’m insufficiently well-informed.
- Politicians are insufficiently distinct from one another.
- No politicians agree with me.
- Elections are all rigged.
I will agree with the voting fascists that numbers 8 and 4 are not good reasons for choosing not to vote, but I will contest the other six.
#1: The vote is stastistically insignificant.
We’ve talked about this one on the blog before–even in states where the election is reasonably close, your vote is extremely unlikely to make a difference. What is the response to this argument? Your excuse sucks offers this:
So let’s get this straight: You’re saying your vote doesn’t count. And not voting at all definitely doesn’t count. So that means…You’re probably right. You and the 80 million other Americans who use the same line of logic surely aren’t affecting anything at all.
The mistake of this argument, and it is probably the most popular argument for voting, is that a single individual vote is somehow connected to all other non-votes. This argument is misleading because it implies that your vote has the power to somehow move this entire group of votes. It leaves out the obvious–unless large numbers of other non-voting people decide to vote because you are voting, and these other people decide to vote exactly the same way as you do, your vote has no connection to the other 80 million non-votes. Pointing out that if all the people who didn’t vote got together and organised, they could move the election, does not in any way change the value of one individual vote, particularly when you consider that the people who don’t vote don’t vote for a large number of different reasons–they are not a monolithic group with a single objective. Your vote is not connected to other votes, it does not exert pull on other voters. Your vote remains precisely as powerful as its share of the total vote, and unless you’re down to a mere hundred or thousand voters, that’s going to be an extremely tiny, statistically irrelevant percentage. Lots of people buy into this argument because other people buy into this argument. If you examine it, it just doesn’t make any sense. I have no sworn promise from anyone else that they will vote if I will vote, or that they will vote the way I vote. You don’t have 80 million votes, you voting will not cause any significant number of other people to vote. You’re one vote, and you represent too small a share of power to matter.
#2: I am opposed to the democratic system.
The response to this argument is typically one of equating any and all alternatives to the democratic system with totalitarianism. Or, as your excuse sucks offers:
Hey, just like the people of North Korea. They vote by not voting every day!
The leap made here is the notion that if you don’t like the system, you must support obviously bad systems of government as alternatives. Regular readers know there are liberty-respecting non-democratic alternatives like sophiarchism. This argument is prejudging and discriminating against non-democratic points of view without hearing them out, and puts words into the mouths of non-democratic people. It attacks a straw man.
#3: I don’t want to spend my time that way.
This excuse is valid provided that you accept that excuse #1 is valid. If your vote is statistically insignificant, spending your time voting is an irrational behaviour.
#5: I’m insufficiently well-informed.
I have tremendous respect for anyone who acknowledges insufficient information and chooses not to vote on that basis. Recognising that people have different skills and different things to offer is at the heart of sophiarchism–if you don’t know anything about statecraft, you do the right thing by not taking decisions on the subject, just as I do the right thing when I don’t tell doctors or lumberjacks how to do their jobs. Different skills with equal respect is an important moral principle. Of course, your excuse sucks doesn’t agree with that:
Since when has democracy ever been about knowing what you’re doing? Do you understand how airplanes fly? No, but you don’t mind participating in that process, do you?
I don’t mind riding in airplanes but I think everyone on board would mind a great deal if I, with no training on how to fly airplanes, seized control from the captain and tried to land the plane myself. My lack of knowledge about flying airplanes would certainly be an issue then. You don’t need to know anything to be flown around, you need to know something to fly, just as you don’t need to know anything to be governed, you need to know something to govern.
#6: Politicians are insufficiently distinct from one another.
The response to this is typically to point out all the minor positional differences between the candidates in the race. Here we can just use the old “Obama is a socialist” argument. Obama looks like a socialist if you zoom in your political spectrum until Obama and Romney represent very distinctive positions, but if you consider all possible political positions, you realise that what really stands out about Obama and Romney is how much they have in common, not their differences. They agree on free markets, on democracy, on quite a lot of things. So my response here is to say that we need to look at all possible politicians to see the scope of possibility, not merely the politicians in front of us.
#7: No politicians agree with me.
Your excuse sucks’ response to this:
In that case, now’s a perfect time to start your political career. Go ahead, write your name in, hotshot. Yeah, well sometimes a restaurant doesn’t have whatever weird thing it is you like to eat, but you order something anyway because that’s what your body needs to keep functioning.
The first argument–that you should run for office in this scenario, is illogical. If no politicians agree with you, that’s because most people do not agree with you and consequently a politician that did agree with you would be unelectable. In that scenario, running for office is the last thing you should do. What you should be doing is trying to replace the system of choosing the most popular view, which your view most definitely is not, with a system more likely to embrace your views.
The second argument concerning the restaurant is even more ridiculous, because it presupposes that the only way to get food is to go to the restaurant. I’m a bit of a picky eater. If I don’t want the food a restaurant is selling, I don’t go there. I’m also a bit of a picky student of statecraft. If I don’t like the outcomes produced by a political system, I try to come up with something else. I don’t just choke down whatever slop is in front of me like a farm animal. When you don’t agree with the outcomes produced by the political system, your vote is like a piece of paper being thrown against the wind, it’s like a Magikarp splash attack, it has no effect.
Now, perhaps these arguments aren’t entirely convincing for you, perhaps you think absolutely everyone should vote anyway–the point is that there are at least some reasonable, logical arguments a person could make to support a non-voting position, and the unfair dismissal of that position is a kind of political repression all of its own. So whether you choose to vote or not, don’t be a voting fascist–respect the integrity of the choice.