I’ve heard it said — quite often — that if you didn’t vote, you can’t complain about the results. Some people subscribe to a more narrow truth that if you didn’t vote for the person who got elected, it’s not your fault. Does this mean that if you voted for “the other guy” your hands are clean? By the very act of voting, did you not knowingly defer your individual decision to any decision made by rule of majority?
Voting is such a contrary freedom, if it can be called that at all. Americans consider it a civic duty, and yet Soviet Russia and many totalitarian countries not only have voting, but it is required under penalty of law. Maybe they know something we don’t. After all, isn’t the decision NOT to vote the expression of a liberty? Doesn’t poor voter turnout make just as much of a statement?
I myself am a conflicted voter. I vote with the moral ambiguity of countless implications weighing on my soul. I choose to vote over not voting by a slim margin — my choice to believe it might make a difference if I do, where it can’t if I don’t. It is the faith of a shallow theist who believes simply to hedge their bets that if they are wrong there’s no harm, and if they are right there is at least some potential reward of favoritism toward believers in the afterlife.
And yet I find the average voter aware of few, if any, of their own arbitrary, unconscious beliefs. And so I will list the nearly unanswerable questions that make this social ritual a minimization of free will through lack of knowledge:
- The question of honesty and accountability regarding campaign promises
- The question of accurate and fair voting process and count
- The question of “throwing out” your vote for a third-party that cannot win on conscience rather than making a stand for the lesser evil of two viable choices
- The question as to whether there are any good choices at all
- The question if someone can even make it on the ballot unbeholden to (unfunded by) special interests
- The question of your own knowledge of the issues, candidates, party platforms, and historical performance records thereof
- The question of an ignorant vote being more harmful than an educated one
- The question of your voting being countermanded by countless others with even less knowledge than you
- The question as to if those in the position of elected officials even have the authority or ability to change the system or make their own decisions
And yet I vote. But voting doesn’t make you a citizen, and certainly not a beneficial one. It is educated voting. Without a sincere attempt to be educated in civic matters, voting is hardly a responsibility. It is perhaps more a crime of negligence against society than not voting at all.
The ultimate personal question is if we CAN be truly knowledgeable enough to make these choices well; the ultimate social question is if enough of us doing so will outweigh the masses who vote by such criteria as physical appearance and convincing smear campaigns. Sadly, the latter has an apparent answer glaring all around us. How often do candidates spend more time talking about their opponent than themselves? How many elected officials have facial hair? Seriously.
Call me a cynic, but I’m actually aware of and vote in spite of all these bad bets. In action, I’m an idealist without the naivete of bumper-sticker activists under the command of politicians stacking the deck, who pretend to serve democracy by herding sheep to the polls. Their argument is that the votes are all that count in the end. Even if that were true, then it’s all the more imperative to make it count. Otherwise, let people stay at home and let the rest of us carry the weight — with educated, conscious intent.