In Defense of Not Voting

by William Skink

While I still greatly appreciate the independent blogging of James Conner at Flathead Memo, his condemnation of my choice not to vote gives me another opportunity to defend my decision.

The problem starts with how my choice is framed in the title of the post: Burning your ballot to keep your hands clean is a bad choice.

No American who pays taxes has clean hands, myself included. Half of every tax dollar is directed to the American killing machine deployed across the globe, protecting corporate investments and making the world less safe for those without private jets and islands getaways.

After the opening paragraphs, where Conner writes approvingly of Australia’s mandatory voting policy, he begins to make his case on why I am wrong in choosing not to vote:

Those who are eligible to vote, but choose not to cast ballots, may think they are keeping their hands clean by not using their vote to bless an unworthy candidate. Or they may think they are denying scoundrels political legitimacy. But by not voting, by refusing to make a choice, they are saying that all of the choices are acceptable, and that no one choice is less acceptable than any other choice. Which is nonsense.

I don’t think I’m keeping my hands clean, and I don’t presume to deny individual scoundrels political legitimacy. BUT the political SYSTEM–comprised of corrupt primaries, problematic technology (voting machines), skewed polling, biased media, and unlimited cash-speak–has created this crisis of legitimacy, and my choice not to vote is simply how I have decided to respond to this crisis.

Here is Conner continuing his lecture:

There is no legal penalty for opting out — but there is a moral penalty. Because not voting is a backhanded blessing of the election, those who chose not to vote lose the moral right to complain about the outcome of the election. That won’t stop them from complaining, or from asserting that not voting makes them more moral than those who stoop to voting. But it will, and should, stop others from listening to them or taking them seriously.

Because of my moral transgression, I should no longer have the right to complain, in addition to not being listened to and/or taken seriously. Got it. But instead of just getting all butt-hurt, I’d like to take a quick look at the notion of compulsory voting:

Supporters of compulsory voting generally look upon voter participation as a civic duty, similar to taxation, jury duty, compulsory education or military service; one of the ‘duties to community’ mentioned in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[4] They believe that by introducing an obligation to vote, it helps to overcome the occasional inconvenience that voting imposes on an individual in order to produce governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern, which in turn benefits that individual even if their preferred candidate or party isn’t elected to power.

Another argument for compulsory voting systems is that it confers a high degree of political legitimacy because they result in high voter turnout.[5] The victorious candidate represents a majority of the population, not just the politically motivated individuals who would vote without compulsion.

Legitimacy of the rulers to govern the ruled is the big orange-faced elephant in the room, and to mix metaphors, Trump is the raging bull in the China shop of American electoral legitimacy. He has claimed the process is rigged, and he’s right. Voting machines, and the billionaires who control them, can’t be trusted. And the over-sampled polls can’t be trusted. And the media whores can’t be trusted. And the candidates?

Down-ticket, state and local candidates, along with voter initiatives, have been the main reason I have continued voting after The Great Scam of 2008. But this cycle, I just can’t do it. The entire political system, imho, has lost legitimacy by being unresponsive to the concerns of 99% of the people who want the partisan divisiveness to end and legitimate efforts to rebuild this country to begin.

James Conner ends his post with this:

Elections seldom offer easy choices. All candidates have flaws. All ballot issues have drawbacks. But George Wallace’s assertion that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the major parties” was not true in 1968, and is not true now. There are differences, significant differences. Electing Donald Trump or Greg Gianforte results in one kind of nation or state. Electing Hillary Clinton or Steve Bullock results in another, very different, kind of nation or state. Denying that denies reality. Refusing to vote is a selfish, misguided, abdication of one’s civic obligation to chose how and by whom we are led.

If you’ve burned your ballot, hike on down to the elections office and get another ballot. There’s still time to do the right thing.

I’m thankful that I’m not obligated to vote for a political system that no longer responds to the majority of its constituents. If I was obliged, I would take the penalty for refusing to participate.

So burn your ballot, because any electoral impact you think you have went up in smoke years ago.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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10 Responses to In Defense of Not Voting

  1. Big Swede says:

    Get off your knees and stop begging James Conner.

    It’s embarrassing.

  2. Greg Strandberg says:

    First of all, let me say I enjoyed your video yesterday about homelessness and the people it affects.

    That said, I’ll be taking your site off my bookmark bar after the election. I know that doesn’t really matter to you, and that’s fine.

    The reason I’m doing this is kind of what Conner is saying – you can’t complain if you don’t vote.

    Of course, you can, but that doesn’t mean you should expect people to listen to you. Hence the reason I won’t be reading your viewpoints anymore.

    Trapping, medical marijuana, brain research…personally I think those initiatives are more than enough reason to vote.

    Anyways, a week to go…maybe you’ll change your mind.

  3. steve kelly says:

    Confusion run by control-freaks: America’s steady state.

    Your inalieiable rights to express yourself freely is not, and never was, granted by the state or federal government. The duty of government, and sworn duty under oath of elected officials, is to protect your god-given, sovereign right(s). That duty is non-discretionary.

    Your critics are obviously confused, but that’s the nature of bureaucratic/authoritarian rule. Gradually, it becomes “normal” to resort to ends-justify-the-means tactics to control dissent. It would be more clear, and more honest, to just tell you to “shut up.”

    Dissent while you have still the chance. Complain when and where it suits you. Make music. Make poetry. It is your inalienable (inviolable) right as a free person. Next, I suppose, we’ll all need a photo ID to satisfy self-appointed state agents and real state agents of our personhood.

  4. JC says:

    I have a close friend who likes to draw people out by burning money. She’ll be in a conversation with a group of folks, and pull out a five or ten and set it on fire, and encourage others to do the same. Inevitably someone will be outed who takes great offense at the blasphemy of burning the national currency. Several times I witnessed men barely able to contain their rage in their desire to physically attack her, and on occasion had to restrain them.

    Similarly, it seems that the burning of the ballot evokes rage among those who hold the vote to be sacrosanct. Just the mere mention of it draws folks out to reveal their true misguided, authoritarian or moralizing bent. It invites attack.

    While you can never spend a burnt dollar (or cast a burned ballot), what you learn about people in response is invaluable. I have often felt that the vote I cast was about as useful as a burning dollar bill. I had but one, while those who have the means to purchase political “speech” have infinitely more than I. It is that purchased power that smothers the votes of millions that is a travesty, not an individual’s choice to make their political or moral views known in other ways.

  5. steve kelly says:

    Is there a burning ballot video?

  6. Big Swede says:

    This is what Hillary and her willing accomplishments in the media did to your candidate Bernie.

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