Voting Rights & Protesting the Choices

by Hayden Alfano

As I was walking to the grocery store near my apartment in Los Angeles the other day, I came across a table that some friendly, well-meaning neighbor had set out upon the sidewalk. On it were several blank voter registration forms. A sign urged passers-by to register to vote, saying “The future is in your hands.”

Election season is my least favorite time of year, and a big part of that is because of pro-voting propaganda.

It probably wouldn’t bother me so much if the people urging others to vote weren’t so holier-than-thou about it. They assert that there’s some social obligation to vote. Well, voting is a right. With it comes it’s opposite, negative right: The right to not vote.

The right to not vote is just as protected and just as legitimate as the right to vote. Not exercising a right can be a powerful form of protest. If a person chooses not to vote because they’re uncomfortable with the political process or because there isn’t a candidate whom they feel is worthy of their endorsement they have every right to refrain from visiting the polls on election day.

Also, blindly encouraging people to vote is logically inconsistent with the reasons that some feel so strongly that the right to vote is actually a social duty. As people, we don’t have an inherent understanding of the issues surrounding an election and the pros and cons of the various candidates. We have to seek out that information. Most people who care enough to get the information necessary to cast an informed vote are going to vote anyway. These pro-voting campaigns are aimed at individuals who, due to apathy or some other reason, choose not to get that information. What’s worse: An uninformed person who doesn’t vote, or one who does?

I submit it’s the latter. If the importance of voting is predicated on the idea that our elected officials will be making important decisions on our behalf, shouldn’t the people who decide who gets to make those decisions be reasonably informed about what they can expect if the person they vote for wins? If I tell you I don’t vote because my vote doesn’t matter and I’m not informed enough to make a decision, is the response of essentially, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for; just vote!” really supposed to convince me?

Indeed, encouraging uninformed people to vote hides the real problem: That for whatever reasons — and there are some very legitimate ones — people don’t care enough to become informed enough to cast an educated vote. If there’s a social obligation at play at all here, it’s that an adult member of a democratic society has a duty to contribute positively by educating themselves about the issues and then — and only then — voting.

The presidential election in the United States is less than a month away. I’m told that a lot is at stake: The war in Iraq; the crumbling American economy; the possible reversal of Roe v. Wade. If we spend that month guilting people into learning about the issues, we’ll have done more good than guilting them into voting. Convince people to care, and the voting problem will take care of itself.

(To read more about challenging voting as a solution, please see "Ralph Nader: Too Conventionally Reasonable?" And to read more about protest votes, please see the series "2008 Election Manifesto: Voting Your Conscience isn't Wasting Your Vote.")

(Political graphic by The Culture Ghost; you can see more of The Culture Ghost's graphics at the blogs Guys from Area 51 and The Culture Ghost. This graphic is made available through a Creative Commons License. To see a video commenting about the lack of choice in the U.S. political system, please check below.)

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Del said...

I'm really angry! I want my anger to be heard. I love my country -- I hate my government. I love my job – I hate Wall Street. I want to join an election protest to tell the politicians ENOUGH. I don't want war, and I don't want anarchy, but I want my voice heard, along with the millions that agree. Simply not voting doesn’t do it. I want my vote recorded in a way a clear and resounding message is sent. I’m voting for Mickey Mouse.

Hayden Alfano said...

Hi del

Thanks for your comment. I admire your passion.

It's interesting that you brought up voting for Mickey Mouse. A few weeks ago I was talking about voting with someone who was trying to convince me to vote. When I expressed my displeasure with my options and, indeed, the entire process, he told me that it didn't matter who I voted for, just that I vote.

"Do what I do," he said. "Vote for Mickey Mouse."

Don't misunderstand: I know that you weren't necessarily trying to get people to follow your lead,and you are free to use your vote (or not use it) as you choose. I will ask you, however, what I didn't bother asking him: Is telling me I should vote for a Disney character really going to convince me that my vote matters?

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