Ted shared an article in Reason this morning: Not Voting and Proud. While I totally understand that “abstain” is just as valid a choice as any on the ballot, I think that Brian Doherty, the article’s author, makes a few missteps:
He sets up a false dichotomy between voting and otherwise helping out in the community. “So, this November 2, do the right thing for America: go to work and do a good job. Clean up some garbage on your street. Help a neighbor out.” The assumption is that I can’t do both. Yes, voting took some time. (For some people, it takes hours.) But I picked up trash yesterday, I’m going to work and do a good job today, and I’ll help a neighbor out tomorrow. Voting didn’t impede my ability to do any of those.
He invokes the paradox of an individual choice in collective action. “As the 2000 election showed, it’s not only effectively mathematically impossible that one vote could matter: it is politically impossible as well.” Doherty even hangs a lampshade over the obvious resolution: “No American is responsible for the voting behavior of our countrymen; so don’t worry for a moment about what would happen ‘if everyone thought that way’.” There are better descriptions of how this paradox resolves, but I’ll invoke some examples: I picked up some garbage even though lots of people both litter and pick up garbage. I work even though my coworkers would take up some of the slack if I didn’t. I’ll help my neighbor even though there are a few other volunteers who plan to do the same. Why? Because each of us has been asked to make the decision for ourselves, so I make that decision as thoughtfully as I can.
He contradicts himself just by writing the article. “If you did control thousands of votes, the math might make it worth voting. But you don’t.” Ah, but how many people read Reason, and specifically how many like-minded people will be swayed by this particular article? The sheer fact that the article takes a tone of encouragement (“Don’t throw away your life; throw away your vote”) should discount the statement about “the math.” As another example, Ted recently asked friends to vote a certain way, “Assuming you vote. Which I don’t.” So it’s important enough to influence others, but not to actually state your preference when asked? I call shenanigans.
I posit that there is a way to vote in protest against voting, specifically in California. Using the ballot I cast this morning as an example, here’s how you could have cast a protest vote:
- Register to vote and/or get a provisional ballot (if you changed your mind at the last minute).
- Vote for any candidates or propositions that pass your “matters” test. (May be none of them, but I remind you there are Libertarian candidates on there, and local races often come down to a few votes’ difference.)
- Vote “no” on all propositions. (For those unfamiliar with CA propositions, that means “No, you may not change the law, change the Constitution, sell bonds, or whatever else you’re asking me about.”)
- Leave all other candidates blank, or fill in the write-in bubble and write “PROTEST” in the space provided.
- Give your ballot to the nice lady at the ballot box.
As extra credit for super-vote-protesters, you could also:
- Attend the next city council / school board / mayoral meeting and participate in the process.
- Next time around, attend the debates and ask really really hard questions. If you doubt this is possible, talk to Eric Bidwell.
- Run for a seat on the city council / school board / congress and start disassembling government from the inside. (I’m sure Ron Paul would love the company.)
That said, your choice is your own. If that choice is to abstain from voting, I won’t harangue you further. I have more important things to do anyway. ;)