Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Not Voting
Ever get the sense that your actions have no impact on the course of history? Have the nagging feeling that one person can’t make a difference? Are you tired of the expectation that it’s your obligation to choose between the lesser of two evils? Fed up with being told by smug do-gooders that people died for your freedoms, so to honor their sacrifice you must drag yourself to the polling place, wait in line with strangers, avoid eye contact as much as possible, and select one of two major party candidates that don’t represent you or most of what you believe?
I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve been right all along. If this next Tuesday rolls around and you don’t particularly feel like doing your “civic duty,” don’t bother. For our story this week, let’s remind you of what you already knew – that there’s no point in wasting time.
The story so far…
With The Most Important Election of Your blah-blah-blah less than one week away, now’s the time for celebrities and opinion-makers and friends and random strangers to tell you that voting is important. You’ll probably get an email from your boss reminding you that it’s okay to be a little late on Tuesday because voting is important (not to mention he/she is required by law to give you time to vote if you need it). Facebook and Twitter will be abuzz with people imploring you to exercise your civic duty. Lots of folks will semi-earnestly tell you that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, that you should just vote.
But you’ve heard that all before, and it’s gotten tiresome. Sure, if people want to vote because it makes them feel like they’re doing their part, you don’t have anything against them. But this idea that it’s cool to get up in your face and act like you’re a drag if you don’t vote…that’s just lame.
If anything, people who get all holier-than-thou about voting ought to be a little more humble. Why do so many of them seem to assume that voting makes them superior to those who choose differently? If it works for them, if it gives them some sort of fulfillment, that’s great. But for too many, it doesn’t stop there – the message many voting evangelists peddle is that choosing not to vote is an illegitimate choice. Put more succinctly:
If that’s what some people want to believe, fair enough, but you know better. Really, other than their own smug sense of self-righteousness, what reason have they to believe that they have any goddamn business judging you for not voting?
Obviously, there are only two candidates for President of the United States that can possibly win. Sure, it would be great if Gary Johnson had a chance of getting 5% of the popular vote, but he doesn’t (he likely won’t even break 1%). No third party candidate has a chance of becoming POTUS, so if you don’t think it’s worth your time to cast a purely symbolic vote, no one should criticize you.
Why should you vote for a candidate that doesn’t represent what you believe? What if you happen to find unreviewable drone assassinations reprehensible? Both major party presidential candidates are cool with secret drone kill lists. What exactly is the lesser of two evils between these two sons of a bitch? What’s the disposition matrix for determining which candidate would be a less awful Murderer in Chief?
If you don’t want to vote for the normalization of assassination-by-robot as a government policy, no one can tell you that you’re not doing your civic duty. Surely you need no further reasons to be at peace with your well-founded decision not to vote. But here are five more anyway. Not that you didn’t know them already…
You’re in Good Company – Plenty of People Don’t Vote
It’s not like voting is something that an overwhelming majority of Americans do. In fact, turnout of voting age Americans for U.S. presidential elections hasn’t broken 60% since 1968. At over 57%, 2008’s turnout was the highest since then, but few observers expect 2012 to come close to matching that. About 90 million Americans will not vote next week. The choice to vote may be many things, but it certainly is not uncommon.
Your Vote is Essentially Meaningless Unless You Live in a Handful of States
Due to the quirks of the Electoral College (which is its own reason not to vote), voting in the presidential election is only arguably meaningful for voters in a few states. I’ve had the misfortune in living in one of those states, Wisconsin, for most of my life, which includes the last few closely contested presidential elections. Although we always go Democrat in the end, there are enough Republican voters here to make GOP candidates think it’s worth polluting our airwaves with advertising. So in some metaphorical sense, my vote for president kinda sorta matters – as it does in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and about half a dozen other states. If you’re a Republican voter in New York or a Democrat voter in Texas, there can be no doubt that your vote for president is essentially meaningless. Speaking of which…
Actually, Your Vote is Essentially Meaningless Anyway
Academics that have attempted to assign actual value to the act of voting have found, not surprisingly, the cost vastly outweighs the benefits.
In their seminal 1993 book Decision and Democracy: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference, [researchers Loren Lomansky and Geoffrey Brennan] offer[ed] a methodology for calculating the value of a vote. On their account, the expected utility of a vote is a function of the probability that the vote will be decisive, delivering gains (to the individual or society as a whole) if the preferred candidate wins. The probability of casting the decisive vote decreases slowly as the size of the voting pool gets larger, but it drops dramatically when polls show that one candidate has even a slight lead. […]
In his brilliant 2011 book The Ethics of Voting… Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan (no relation to Geoffrey Brennan) applied the Lomasky/Brennan method to a hypothetical scenario in which the victory of one candidate would produce additional GDP growth of 0.25 percent in one year. Assuming a very close election where that candidate is leading in the polls only slightly and a random voter has a 50.5 percent chance of casting a ballot for her, the expected value of a vote for that candidate is $4.77 x 10 to the −2,650th power. That’s 2,648 orders of magnitude less than a penny.
It would appear that if voters think their ballot can have an impact on the economy, they are sorely mistaken.
You Are Not Obligated to Honor the Dead
Republican-leaning voters may try to appeal to patriotism, and argue that you must vote because of soldiers that have sacrificed their lives to keep us free (whatever that means). Democrats like Rep. John Lewis might make similar appeals on the basis of the civil rights movement. However, if anyone died for your freedom, presumably it was for your free choice – a choice you can exercise by refusing to vote. And even if you are viscerally moved by memories of the civil rights era, it’s hard to believe African-Americans of those days made sacrifices so that you could vote for…a guy who thinks nothing of massacring dark-skinned foreigners with drones on a daily basis.
You Are Not Responsible for Other People’s Choices
The argument of last resort for anyone who thinks you should vote is some version of, “Well, what if everyone thought like you?” To which you should always answer, “Well, if everyone thought like me, then hell yes I’d vote. Shit, I’d write myself in and make Kate Upton my vice president. Can you dig it?” Unfortunately, not everyone thinks like you. The world would be a better place if they did. But you and I both know you can’t make that happen, and anyone who tells you otherwise is obviously overcome with emotion.
On Tuesday, you have an unimportant choice to make. If you choose to exercise your right to vote, have at it. If you don’t, there’s no reason to be ashamed. The world won’t end, no matter who wins. And if the world does end, it’s exceedingly unlikely that your vote or lack thereof had anything to do with it. But whatever you decide to do, at least try not to judge others too harshly for making a different choice. Even if they do choose to vote for unrestrained drone slaughter.