The Argument for Not Voting

Image by Brett Neilson

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
― John Quincy Adams

“Voting gives us an opportunity to choose from options that were chosen for us.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“You sold out! We elected you, and you sold out! The next time we have an election, I think everyone should vote for himself. Or we might just as well vote for Charlie Brown! Yes, next year we may even say, ‘You’re elected, Charlie Brown!”
― Charles M. Schulz, You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown

From as far back as I can remember, my father drilled it into my head that “If you don’t vote you don’t have the right to complain about who gets in.” I understand the notion that it’s our responsibility to get out there and be involved in the choosing of our leaders. A key part of that equation is doing the actual task of going to the polls (or filling out your absentee ballot) and voting.

Social media, television, radio, are all flooded with advertisements to register to vote, get out the vote, make sure above everything else you VOTE. It is your responsibility. Sitting it out is un-American!

Seems to me, though, our responsibility runs deeper than showing up, pushing  button, and collecting your “I Voted!” sticker. Are we truly doing our duty if we just vote by simply voting straight party (which is an easy option in eight states) or by whoever seems to have the most signs around our neighborhood? Don’t we have a duty to research our votes and see which candidates align with our desires and our morals?

Once we start looking at the candidates, though, we face another problem: what if we don’t like any of the candidates? I’m not talking “like” as in them not eating at the same hamburger restaurant we do, but “like” as in want to be governed by them. Our choices are limited even if we have all the major and third party options represented. Now picture if that’s not even the case. In my own county, fourteen out of 44 open seats are unopposed. Is it my duty as an American to simply pull the lever for that one candidate, even if I cannot stand anything they stand for? There are areas of California and Washington which, thanks to the Top Two Primaries, have only one political party on the ballot. If you don’t believe in that party’s platform or actions, is it still your duty to vote for them?

One response to not liking the candidates offered is to say we should write in our votes. That’s not always possible. Nine states don’t allow for write-ins at all. 

Now we’ve reached a moral quandary: is it our duty as citizens to vote for a candidate that goes against our principles? I say no. It is our duty as citizens to be involved, to be informed, to do research. Ideally, every ballot would have an option for “None of the above” and a space to explain our choice. Until that’s an option, I stand by my belief that you can still be a responsible citizen and not cast a vote.

Don’t be mistaken–I am not advocating “not voting” as a first choice. Absolutely, if there is a candidate you feel remotely comfortable voting for, do it and try to convince others why they should vote for that candidate as well. But your responsibility is to make an informed decision and let that guide your actions, not to simply act.

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