Why I am Not Voting

20 03 2012

Owly Images

Unless a last-minute change of heart overtakes me, this will mark the first election I miss since becoming eligible in September of 2000. Since then, I have voted in every primary, municipal, and general election I was eligible to vote in–though I do think one of my “provisional” ballots was thrown out because I voted in the wrong precinct after moving. Making the decision not to vote was a difficult one, not cavalierly reached. Voting is both a duty and a right, to my mind, and I personally support universal, compulsory voting on the Australian model. That’s not the system we have, though, and with each passing election the meaning of my vote has tranmogrified into something ugly: a negative speech act against the apparitions and shades conjured up by those nearer to me on the political spectrum–my supposed ideological allies–rather than for any principles I can actually support.

In other words, accepting the proposition that a vote is essentially an act of speech, the dictum that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, would apply. Perusing the sample ballot, I see little nice to say.

I do consider voting a duty, but in all honesty my compulsion to vote in each cycle was more motivated by partisanship than civic responsibility. I was a Democrat full of visceral dislike and distrust of Republicans, to the point of virulence. Like most partisans, I built a shabby intellectual structure to house what was really little more than a set of strong emotions. I saw historic Democratic sweeps in state and federal governments, historic elections; I saw local activists whom I knew personally and admired get elected to local office; I breathed sighs of relief when campaign season predictions of Republican governing apocalypses were narrowly avoided by key victories. Years passed. And there was little meaningful progress toward any fundamental change; not only that, but the case for fundamental change wasn’t even being articulated. From my remote vantage, peering through the window into the halls of power, the pigs and the men were increasingly indiscernible one from another.

A vote against something is an act of desperation and weakness. It legitimizes a system of comparative justifications, where superficial or even reactionary policies and institutions are defended solely on the grounds that the immediately available alternative is worse. And while that’s certainly often true–as frustrated as I am with President Obama on most issues, I have no doubt whatsoever that a President McCain would be “worse”–it isn’t reason enough to vote–it isn’t reason enough, more specifically, for an act of speech that puts force and legitimacy behind a candidate or a set of policies that I wholeheartedly disagree with.

I, like I’d wager you, have principles on civil liberties, criminal justice, civil rights, workers rights and property rights that the Democratic Party does not stand for, at least in practice. And what candidates do tend to agree with me on these issues, once elected, are stovepiped into a narrow range of action by powerful party leaders and executives.

Our two-party system means that I can either vote for candidates and policies I do not actually support, or risk candidates and policies I abhor winning out. But that really means lending my speech to something I don’t believe in–this is the worst part of the two-party system drowning in money. It can pressure you into acts of mild hypocrisy out of fear.

For the first time, this petty act of intellectual dishonesty just doesn’t feel worth it. I don’t want to be bullied into voting because otherwise the boogeymen will come and get me in the night. I don’t want to, for the umpteenth time, see men and women I lent my voice act destructively on things that are dear to me.

Until an independent and capable movement develops outside of the two party system to act on it to be actually responsive, voting in these elections will feel too much like being bullied, too much like negative speech, too much like an act of desperation and fear not befitting free people in a supposedly democratic society.

So I’m not voting today. No, that’s no kind of solution to a huge problem. But it’s easier on my conscience.



One response

13 04 2012
alex sumberg

Stop being such a shoe-gazing sissy all the time. You think Adams licked voting for Jefferson and Hamilton… no. But he did. Write something in.

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