There is less than a month until the next US presidential election and I’ve gone out of my way to avoid paying attention. Although I didn’t vote in the last presidential election, I was living in a house with voters, in a school with a plethora of voters, and saw hundreds of articles and opinions come through my Facebook feed every day.
Now, I spend the vast majority of my time in my house in a city where I know few people. I have no Facebook account and I pick and choose what I read about on the internets. Still, as with certain pop songs that one can’t help but hearing in grocery stores or coffee shop, I have taken part in conversations about the election.
Some people call me names upon hearing my opinions on voting, others say they agree in theory but there are one or two things that make Obama/Romney the lesser of two evils. The most common response is, “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” (see George Carlini for my response to that). Rarely do I meet someone else who also refuses to give up their power once every four years. This all leads me to believe that the vast, vast majority of people have voted and will vote again this year. Yet, when I look at the statistics they tell a completely different story. What does this mean?
It could mean that the polls are wrong, but despite the big conspiracy theorist in me, I don’t believe they are. Then it must mean that people lie; that most of the people who tell me they are voting actually aren’t. Then the question becomes, why do they feel the need to lie?
I think (hope) I understand why they don’t vote. I’m sure for many it is just laziness, but for most I believe it to be a form of helplessness. Bruce Levine is a little clearer with his, but my theory is that people grow up in this society with a feeling of helplessness; a feeling that they have no control over their lives. They can chose what bar to go to or whether to have a satellite dish or cable, but these don’t amount to much. Elections are presented to us as a way to feel a sense of our power, that we are a part of decisions beyond our daily lives, and that we have a say in shaping the future of the world, simply by pulling a lever or checking a box. Some go even further and volunteer for campaigns, to have yet more of an impact on the world. A high percentage of people (again, this is just a theory) are smart enough to see, some after a few attempts and some just from looking at history, that voting doesn’t actually accomplish anything.
Now this sense of helplessness comes rushing back, stronger than ever. The one tool you’ve been given to make change has proven useless. Now what? If we lived in a world that encouraged healthy communication, where we put more faith in our neighbors than immoral representatives, then maybe we could rediscover our power and push the helplessness out the window. Instead, we’re told to shut up, look straight ahead, and don’t do or say anything different or weird. We have to stop listening to this. Much like if every gay person came out or every marijuana smoker voiced their love of Mary Jane, if every non-voter was open and honest about why they refuse to cast their vote I believe we would see things change in a hurry.
The only way something like an election is valid is if people participate in it. Therefore, if enough people stop participating, the election process would lose whatever validity it has left. Most people who vote believe that their vote actually means something. Non-voters need to take this same attitude, because it’s true; your non vote actually means something. Right now, less than fifty percent of eligible voters go to the polls. What would happen if only 25% voted, and the 75% majority of non-voters made noise? How would any person be able to claim victory, just from getting 13% of voters on their side? They couldn’t!
i“I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don’t vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.”