“I don’t vote.”

Steven here…

I’ve seen a lot of people address undecided voters, and protest voters this year. But not a lot of time spent on those abstaining from the practice altogether.
Voting rights, mother fucker--do you use them?!
I can understand not voting if life gets in the way. I’ve missed votes because of work schedules, traveling and just not getting registered in time. These aren’t necessarily good excuses, but they make infinitely more sense than someone actively choosing not to vote.

These are people who feel that because the system is corrupt and the candidates are shady, and that any participation in the process is worthless. They say “I don’t vote” with the same moral smugness that an anti-choicer will use to tell you about how birth control pills are evil and invented by Lord Satan.

If this describes you, and you think of not voting as an act of protest, just remember that protests only work if they are noticed. And politicians aren’t counting the votes that went to no one. When they do notice the absence of voters they expected to show up, they never say, “Well shucks, I guess I should be more idealistic. The people have spoken.” No. They dismiss the ones that didn’t show up as lazy and they focus on pandering to the voters that gave enough of a shit to participate.

Even voting for a 3rd party candidate gets your vote counted and lets the major parties know that they need to shift their focus. That’s right, not voting is more useless than throwing your vote away.

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
You can also follow me on Facebook or that bird thing.

About geekysteven
  • iknklast

    Actually, voting for a third party isn’t throwing your vote away, if it gets the candidates to look at things differently. It isn’t throwing your vote away to vote for someone you agree with even if they won’t win. It’s making your voice heard. Throwing your vote away is if you live in a safe state and you vote for the candidate you don’t like over the candidate you hate, and your vote is going to the candidate you hate anyway.

  • Cory Albrecht (@Bytor)

    Up here in Canada, one of the things that gets counted and published during an election is the number of spoiled ballots. Is there anything similar in US elections processes?

    People who say “I’m not voting, as a protest”, I tell them they look just like the apathetic masses who don’t vote, the politicians can’t tell them apart so not voting is an ineffective protest that does nothing. If all these people, however, went int and deliberately spoiled their ballots, then you know the politicians would sit up and take notice of a high spoil count in their riding.

    But if they still don’t vote, I have no problem being openly contemptuous of them when they complain about politicians or the government.

  • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    There are groups who feel voting is violent and immoral. I do not agree but this is a local group near me and their reasoning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYVdRTyFaXo&feature=share&list=UUnVoUZNXrdhiSzKk-2U_Z0g

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      That was interesting…the point of voting is that it enables a non-violent transfer of power, which is an achievement we take for granted in this country. Also, I take exception to their statement that only governments can raise and fund armies. If that were true, there wouldn’t be civil wars. And while states with a monopoly of the use of force can be tyrannical, the lack of a functioning state doesn’t usually lead to less violence, just the diffusion of violence to multiple actors (Somalia).

      As the saying goes: democracy (more properly, republicanism) isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing we’ve come up with yet. And if you don’t vote, the system isn’t going to get any better!

  • guest

    no, not voting is throwing your vote away. voting is voting. I’m from a country where enough people voted for the “third party” until the third party was in power (via coalition, but not a minority any longer), not just the three knitting hippies in row 10.
    I’m still amazed that Americans have to “register” before they can vote. I assume that’s because you don’t have registration when you move, right? Shouldn’t you remove that hurdle? Shouldn’t adult citizens be registered by default (opt out instead of opt in? like organ donation, but less lethal)

    • eric

      There is no federal agency whose job it is to do the registration you’re talking about. Every state does it differently and the vast majority do ‘opt in’ simply because that eliminates the costs of having to pay for a state agency that finds and tracks people for voting purposes.

      We have some systems which are 80%-90% of the way there. Most states use your application for a drivers license (or other state ID) to auto-register you for potential jury selection. There’s an obvious systemic bias in that system; fewer (per capita) poor people will be registered. I’d guess that most Americans are willing to tolerate that bias for jury pools, but are not willing to use that same sytem for election purposes.

  • kyshwn

    To be honest, I have always been an “I don’t vote” person. I lived in Massachusetts my whole life… and my vote(no matter which side I wanted) wouldn’t have made any difference in the outcome for presidential elections. That’s pretty much what I always felt. Lately I’ve realized that there’s more to the elections than just the presidential.

    • eric

      Yes exactly. There’s likely to be 3-10 decisions to vote for on your ballot. Just because you don’t want to vote on one of them is no good reason not to vote on the others.
      Of course, if you know absolutely nothing about those other decisions you really aren’t helping the process by voting. Show up AND be informed.

  • Brigit

    Some US citizens don’t vote because they’re in the Mainland in semi-voluntary exile from their colony of origin and are anti-colonialist and/or pro-independence- and thus consider they themselves voting in the colonizer’s elections unethical. I’ll swallow part of my sense of ethics to vote in the current elections, but I would never judge the other anti-colonialists for holding on to theirs. Anti-colonialists are certainly not the majority, or likely even a sizable amount, of those that are choosing not to vote in Mainland elections. However, considering the current mass exodus from places like PR it’s becoming more of an issue in some communities.

    • Cory Albrecht (@Bytor)

      I can’t tell from your confusing post whether you’re referring to US ex-pats living in Britain, United Empire Loyalists who didn’t move to Canada after the American Revolution, or Native Americans not voting in what they feel is the illegitimate election of an occupying power.

      • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

        There are plenty of raised-middle class white young people who identify as anarchists and anti-colonialist who do not vote as well.

      • Brigit

        I refer to Puerto Ricans – US citizens (since 1917) that can’t vote while in Puerto Rico but can as soon as they move to the US mainland. There’s about 3.5 million PRicans in the island and around 4 million in the US Mainland. Current employment and economic conditions have resulted in mass exodus into the US, but for those that have had to do so for educational or employment issues, and not from a true desire to relocate, the move has come with peculiar ethical issues.

        • eric

          I’m somewhat surprised that’s an ethical issue. IIRC, PR has had several referendums on changing their status, and each time the vote has come down on the side of retaining the current (admittedly wierd and not-quite-anything) status.
          I could see abstention-as-protest if the US was refusing to implement some democratically-approved status change. That would be a case of an occupying power. But PR, as a territory, has not approved any change of status by their own vote. The folks desiring independence (or even full statehood) are in the position of having lost a vote; they are not in the position of having their vote ignored.

    • John Horstman

      That’s stupid. While I empathize with the underlying sentiments (“fuck your imperialist power structure”), arriving at a conclusion of “I won’t vote” because of them is just self-defeating. Voting exists as an avenue through which to exercise some power. It’s of limited impact and scope, and it relies on a morally bankrupt system, but refusing to vote is still refusing to exercise a potential avenue of power to promote social change (or at least forestall disaster, which is what I consider my vote for Obama, drone-launching, Wall-Street-fellating plutocrat that he is). There’s nothing about voting that precludes other forms of activism, including those directed against the politicians one helped put in office through a vote (or their policies/laws). By all means, we should be working to make things better through direct, local action, and further, national policy can impact that (women, for example, are going to be able to devote a lot more time to activism if they’re not pregnant or caring for young children on their own when they don’t want to be, so the national coverage of birth control and defense of abortion rights is really, really important, with respect to practically everything else).

      I’d buy the protest/symbolic refusal argument more if it had any discernible discursive impact, but it just doesn’t (same with third party votes in national elections – you need to start local with that stuff to build a political network and base of popular and financial support). What it does do is put one’s own sense of ideological purity or consistency above the material well-being of large swaths of the population. In this election, for example, while Obama and Romney aren’t nearly as different on taxes and economic policy as they’d have you believe (or even war, necessarily), they are radically divergent on women’s bodily autonomy re: reproduction and the rights of gay, bi, trans*, and other non-heteronormative citizens, and these differences mean real differences in the well-being of these people. Not supporting one over the other (in this case, Obama over Romney) just because both will be equally good or equally bad for YOU is fucking immoral, especially since one of them will be president. Voting for the least of two evils certainly isn’t ENOUGH, but it’s absolutely necessary.

  • IE

    I live in Texas. I’m a white caucasian male. I’m also an atheist and lean highly to the left (almost to the side of anarchism). Even though I live in one of the most liberal cities in the state (Austin), voting is still throwing my vote away. Not voting is also throwing my vote away. I’m screwed either way.

    I don’t vote because it’s a scam. I don’t vote as a means of “protest,” it’s because the system is so antiquated and worthless that we are given an illusion that it “works.” So what if either candidate wins? The world will go on, the country will go on, and my life will go on, almost completly unaffected by anything they do.

    The government is worthless. There are too many people in this country: with different lives, cultures, histories, and finances, and the system does not fully acknowledge or take advantage of that. It’s amazing it’s even lasted this long.

    Changes don’t take place over 4 years. Revolutions do.

    • eric

      From a quick google: “A general presidential election has been set for Nov. 6, 2012. Voters will consider 18 City of Austin propositions, including 10 City Charter amendment propositions, one voter-initiated proposition, and seven bond propositions. To learn more about local issues in this year’s election, visit the City Clerk’s election page.”
      Given Tx’s large majority of republicans, your vote for President may not matter all that much…but there is a lot more on the ballot than just that.

    • HannibalBarca

      I have a couple anarchist friends, and their reasoning goes thusly: Government gets its’ power to govern from the consent of the governed. In their view, refusing to vote is withdrawing that consent.
      I am a libertarian (anarchism and libertarianism are different, please don’t confuse the two) and I vote. Since I live in a decidedly Republican state, I’ll vote for my candidate this year (Johnson). If I lived in a swing state my vote would go to Obama.

      • eric

        One would think they would want to vote for more anarchy and less government control. I.e., against regulations, against bond measures, etc. But whatever.

      • John Horstman

        Refusing to follow unjust laws is a withdrawal of that consent, a withdrawal from the implicit social contract (I would certainly argue that, at the very least, the federal government has already failed to hold up its side of the bargain). Not voting is just lazy, or possibly intellectual masturbation, and immoral, as it has direct material impacts on vulnerable populations, who themselves may be disproportionately disenfranchised. I thought along similar line once upon a time, then I read a lot more books and learned more history and realized that a lot of my views were rooted in White male privilege that insulated me from the real and direct impacts on women, people of color, etc. (Are your anarchist friends mostly/all White men? Yes, you say? There’s a reason for that… [I'll grant, I'm projecting here, but it has been my extensive experience that both Libertarians and anarchists tend to overwhelmingly White and male, as they do not need government to protect them from people trying to oppress and exploit them on the basis of demographic group membership.])

  • http://drzach.net Zachary Moore

    When there is not a candidate that I want in office, nor an issue for which I have no preference. I don’t vote for them. When there are, I do. I don’t give a damn if anyone takes offense. I don’t give a damn what any politicians think. I don’t give a damn about bloggers who think I’m useless. I vote according to my conscience, not to some compromise.

  • MM

    Easy solution to the voting issue: get rid of the electoral college and all this swing-state bullshit. That said, I also believe that not voting is incredibly short-sighted. For instance, my wife and I are friends with and supporters of our local neighborhood representative (in DC, there are neighborhood councils whose members are elected during the ward and national elections). Because we have to vote absentee this election, my wife was just going to skip it, but I reminded her that our friend was up for reelection and, even if she didn’t strongly prefer a national candidate, the local election was incredibly important and we needed to support our friend and the policies he’s been working to implement for the neighborhood.

    Anyway, I think people get too focused on national politics, where the issues tend to not have immediate impact, and completely lose sight of local elections that can have a profound impact on your life day-to-day. Don’t like the way that new construction project is being managed? Well, your elected officials have control over that. Crime is high? Elected officials have an effect on that too. It is beyond me why people seem to completely ignore local politics and then bitch about traffic, or construction, or schools…your vote can influence those things!!!

  • http://zachsmind.wordpress.com ZachsMind

    “If this describes you, and you think of not voting as an act of protest, just remember that protests only work if they are noticed.”

    Harriet Tubman protested during the Civil War by actively not being noticed. So you’re wrong there.

    I used to vote for the lesser of two evils, until I realized I was still voting for evil. It doesn’t matter who wins elections or what resolutions get passed. Those with more money than brains will continue to get their way at the expense of the less fortunate. No one can vote that down. It would be unAmerican.

    You can be as smug as you want with your vote. I’m exercising my rights just as you are. Just cuz you disagree with how I choose to exercise my rights, that means about as much as your vote, which is to say nothing at all. As for throwing my vote away by voting for a third party that I also don’t believe in cuz you think it’d send a message? I got better things to do that day, like work for a living.

    But by all means please vote. Make a day of it. Enjoy yourselves if you are so inclined. Perpetuate the illusion that the fat cats haven’t already bought this election and any other that’s worth their time and resources. I would rather have the rich and powerful believe this illusion is still working, cuz I’m slightly allergic to revolution, and I also happen to like it when the trains run on time.

    • Loqi

      Yep. Nobody noticed Harriet Tubman. All the people she helped escape the slavery just woke up one day and were like, “Holy shit, I’m safely out of the reach of slavery now. I wonder how that happened…I didn’t notice anything….”
      “I used to vote for the lesser of two evils, until I realized I was still voting for evil. It doesn’t matter who wins elections or what resolutions get passed.”
      Except that it does. If one thing is bad, but the other is worse, and you can choose between the two, you’d have to be out of your mind not to choose the less bad one. If a guy puts a gun to my head and says, “I’m either going to break your arm or shoot you in the head. You choose,” I’d take the broken arm. Just because both options suck doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.
      “I got better things to do that day, like work for a living.”
      Hey, I work that day as well! Yet I’m still going to vote. Funny how those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
      “I’m exercising my rights just as you are.”
      Nobody is suggesting otherwise. We’re just criticizing your choice. Unless you’re one of those “criticism = oppression” folks.
      ” Just cuz you disagree with how I choose to exercise my rights, that means about as much as your vote, which is to say nothing at all.”
      This isn’t even a coherent sentence.
      In conclusion, I’m not really buying your attempt to cast apathy as a virtue.

    • http://brutereason.net Miriam

      …except Harriet Tubman actually DID stuff that helped people. Immensely. Who are you helping by sitting at home on your butt while everyone else goes and chooses our next president?

    • Rory

      I don’t know if this applies where you live, but looking just at the presidential election this year, you have a choice of voting for a guy who has made it pretty clear he’s eager to roll back the rights of LGBT folks and women, or a guy who won’t do that. If nothing else, that would be enough reason for me to vote against Mitt Romney. Now, maybe you’re in a deeply red or blue state and your vote has no chance of changing the outcome. But if you live in a swing state, and you choose not to vote, then you’ve put your moral stand above the rights of real people who are going to suffer for it. If you’re okay with that, then that’s your call. I’m personally not willing to sacrifice other people’s rights for my own self-gratification, but that’s my call.

  • http://www.ambersexton.com Amber

    I totally agree. I personally have arranged absentee ballots for the only times I’ve ever been away on election day and I once forgot to vote on a ballot measure when I was in the voting booth. I vote in local primaries even when there are only judges running. I personally believe that voting is the very least you can do. I do not quite think that voting third party is throwing your vote away, but it is often certainly counterproductive. It can be just as much of a cop out as not voting.

    If you only vote for ideologically pure candidates who will never govern, then you have essentially considered the whole election process as a philosophical exercise only. The practical matter of guiding our country never gets your attention and you remain untainted by the compromise that is politics.

    Voting third party in US history has had the effect of eventually having one of the two parties adopt the third party’s strongest platform ideas if those build enough support. So in times when there is not the risk that the worst possible candidate could win if you don’t support the one you find second best, then voting for an idealistic third pary or unaffiliated candidate my help move your targeted party in the direction you want it in future elections.

    But I often think the talk of third parties often ignores the fact that we as voters need to vote in local and state elections and on ballot initiatives and often in those cases a third party isn’t even in play. Focusing on it can be very reductive to Presidential politics.

    The election process is a microcosm of governing in that your goal is to choose the compromise, in the form of a person, that is closest to what you would prefer. If you do this with consistent engagement you will find you have some elections you are very proud of what happens, or very glad that you fought against something. Other times you may regret your choice, wether the candidate won or lost, when developments reveal their negative side. Often times you are pleasantly surprised by someone you weren’t enthusiastic about or who beat your favored candidate is much better then you thought.

    Being an engaged citizen encompasses all of this. And you should care about the outcome and our society, which is impacted by the election no matter how it turns out.

  • http://www.ambersexton.com Amber

    If you don’t vote I think you are also considering the whole thing a philosophical matter, and that the ideas behind what you do are more important than the practical fallout of having a bad candidate prevail because good people abstained.

    The problem, as you said Steven, is that no one else is considering your philosophy behind not voting. The whole idea that “I don’t consent to this governance so I’m not voting” well sorry unless you left the country or are in an armed compound you do consent. Unless you go to war to remove the leader from power you are consenting. And the fact that half the country doesn’t bother to vote is not on par with a revolution of any kind. So I think it’s some sort of pathological idealism that you are in some kind of mental war of removing your consent from the government and this is somehow going to collapse all the institutions you despise. If this is a protest it is extremely passive and impotent, because it is certainly ignored.

  • B-Lar

    I refuse to choose the shiniest of turds. I will vote when i can choose “none of the above”

    Real democracy doesnt happen on election day. It happens in protest and grassroots movement. Voting is a big show to give the illusion of democracy and is a fuckung abomination. You are giving your approval and your mandate to someone who doesnt represent you. You are giving them license to piss on you from a great height.

    I guess i can think like that though. The UK would never let a Romney or a Bush anywhere near the seat of power.

    • eric

      Perhaps you forgot that, in addition to the President, you are also voting for these people called “Representatives.” They live in your district and try and make sure any laws that get passed don’t screw you. They personally bring in probably anywhere between 1%-50% of your District’s budget in the form of federal ait.
      Also on the ballot could be: changes to your state constitution. Bond measures (i.e., how your community plans to raise and spend money). Local governmental acts/policies. School Board elections. Local judge elecions. Sherriff elections, and numerous other local elections.
      You can’t possibly tell me every single one of those decisions is a turd. I would bet dollars to donuts you aren’t even that well informed; I’d bet you don’t even know what local election decisions are on your ballot.

  • Brad1990

    People who don’t vote annoy me. We are damn lucky to live in a democracy, and I see it as a civic duty to excercise that right and partake in the Democratic process. You want to make a protest, spoil your balot. They count spoiled ballos, or at least they do in the UK, so your protest will actually be noticed. As Steven said, if you just don’t vote, it will be assumed that you either missed it due to prior engagements or were just too damn lazy to get off your arse and excercise the rights and priveledges which you are so damn lucky to enjoy.

  • Nox

    The first presidential election I could have voted in was 2000. I saw that Bush and Gore were both absolutely unacceptable candidates. And I didn’t want to be partially responsible for making either of these f*cking guys president. So I refused to participate. I’ve regretted that ever since.

    Gore was an absolutely unacceptable candidate. I’ve not changed my mind about that part. That said, I should have voted for him (it wouldn’t really have mattered as I wasn’t in Florida). In hindsight, just not being exactly George Bush would have made him objectively better then George Bush. And the opportunity to vote against Bush in 2000 is something that I’ve never forgiven myself for squandering.

    Assuming that Obama and Romney are basically the same candidates, controlled by the same special interests, who will have 90% the same policies, the lesser of two evils is still at least slightly less evil.

    One of them will be compelled to throw favors to a conservative base. One of them will be compelled to throw favors to a liberal base. One to two supreme court justices will be retiring in the next four years. And regardless of how you vote or don’t vote or any other factors whatsoever, one of these two guys is going to be elected.

    Low voter turnout doesn’t mean elections are cancelled. It just means they are easier to manipulate. If you don’t vote, the decision will be made in your absence, and the electoral system will count you as having voted for whatever won.

    It’s undeniable that the system is broken. But the right answer to a broken system is not to check out. The right answer to a broken system is to apply pressure to the system.

  • Katybe

    I’ve never understood people choosing not to vote as some sort of protest. I’m a British female – when I was first old enough to vote, my mother sat me down and explained that we didn’t just have a right to vote, we had a duty to do so because so many women in the past had had to fight and die for me to have that right, and I’ve voted in every national and local election since I was 18. Not going is inconceivable.

  • HannibalBarca

    I don’t know if anyone’s still reading this, but, to Jon Horstman:
    Yeah, my anarchist friends are white males. I am also male and consider myself white, although there’s been some interracial dress-lifting in my ancestry.
    Although the majority of the libertarians and anarchists you have met may have been white males, that doesn’t really say much about the actual positions and platforms of the Libertarian party. I think most of the atheists I have met have been white males – what does that say about atheism?
    I don’t think anarchism has any merit at all as a position – everything I’ve ever studied about it indicates that if a society doesn’t have a government, it forms one as fast as it possibly can. Generally speaking, those primitive governments tend to be patriarchal and cruel. So I don’t say we should have no government and no regulations (as those friends of mine think), but I think that generally speaking, individual liberty should be preserved except in very limited circumstances when that puts society’s health and goals at risk.
    I asked my friend once why Somalia is such a shithole, since it’s pretty much the anarchist utopia – no functioning government, etc. I told him that, when foreign fishing fleets started abusing Somalia’s lack of a coast guard, lack of fishing regulations, etc, the Somalis responded by – you guessed it – forming a semi-government. Groups of pirates defended their nation’s waters and their livelihoods by banding together and taking crude, brutal measures to protect their group against the foreign fishers.
    Result? The foreign fishers left when threatened by pirates. In the absence of a functioning government, they formed one.
    So I’m not an anarchist, and like I said before, I do vote. I was just trying to say what their position was, not defend it.