—Over the past few years our country has endured some of the most tumultuous times in recent political history. The great partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats has mobilized voters for the upcoming midterm elections in record numbers. In light of this, we asked our contributors whether or not an American should vote in every election. —
The Faireway Staff
—According to FairVote.org, there is approximately a 60% voter turnout for the eligible voting population during presidential elections and only a 40% voter turnout during midterm elections. That is less than half the eligible voting population representing the interests of an entire nation. This surely means that the other half has to be galvanized and shepherded to the voting polls on November 6th to exercise its civic duty. After all, if these people don’t vote then they will not have a right to complain when they are subject to the whims of whomever takes power once the votes have been counted. Right?
I hope, in the limited space I have, I can convince at least some people that the practice of voting ought not be lionized in the way that it is. The first reason for this is the fact that while it is indeed classified as a right, voting is not a right in the same sense that a right of, say, life is. Voting bares semblance, if anything, to a sort of privilege. An individual is capable of alienating a person from their right to vote by denying them the opportunity to vote even if they truly wanted to. The same cannot be said, however, of a right of life. One can alienate another individual from living by killing them, but would not be able to alienate them from their right to live. Even after death, the fact still stands that the individual in question had the right to live. The right to vote is then best understood as a privilege that is granted to us by government when we are on our best behavior.
That being said, we as moral individuals have no civic duty to vote. In the same way that I have no duty to go to the pool when I have the privilege of doing so on a hot summer’s day, an individual does not have a duty to go to the voting polls when they have the privilege of doing so on election day. This is least of all the case when they are not adequately informed about current events and the political issues of the time. If anything, individuals under those circumstances have a duty not to vote so they do not subject others to the tyrannies that would be engendered by their irresponsible, uninformed decision-making.
Many may respond viscerally to my statements above, but I would venture to guess that, of those many, there would be few who would actively encourage an individual to vote if they knew full well that they would be handing their votes to the opposition. Of course, there are some who have an avowed, sincere interest in encouraging others to participate in democracy. But these people are few and far between. It seems only to be the case that people want me to exercise my “civic duty” when they believe that my exercise will serve their ends. If you do not feel strongly enough about a candidate or issue, you should not feel obligated to resign yourself to nothing more than a tool meant to leverage a political ideology you are not 100% convinced by.
Some say that those who do not vote on election day relinquish their “right to complain.” This, however, just makes no sense. Imagine there are three individuals. The three have plans to go to an auction where they will be able to make some extra money for themselves. One of the three decides that she does not want to go to the auction but instead wants to stay home and work on her presentation for work. The other two go to the auction. Hours later, some men arrive at the house of the women who stayed home and start packing up all of the furniture in her living room. She starts yelling at the men and they look at her indignantly and say, “Hey! You didn’t go to the auction, so you don’t have a right to complain about your things being sold there.” But she does have the right to complain. Other people decided what would happen with her things and her life. Sure, she could have participated. But she had better things to do. And she obviously did not feel strongly enough about the auction to make an appearance and she is entitled to her reasons for feeling this way.
I would argue that an individual who did not vote has even more of a right to complain about the outcomes of an election because their hands are clean. They are guiltless. They did not contribute to the outcome that would inevitably fail around half the American population. Those who voted, on the other hand, did.
None of this is to say that people should abstain from voting altogether. Like I said before, voting is indeed a privilege. Privileges, however, entail responsibility. When you have the privilege of going to the pool on a hot summer’s day, you need to arrange a way to get there. You need to arrange a way to get home. You need to prepare food to take with you. You need to have water, sunscreen, bug spray, and a means of entertainment when everyone is asked to step out of the pool routinely. Otherwise, you will get burned, dehydrated, and bored. Similarly, you need to be informed before you vote. You need to care about the causes you are championing on that ballot. You have to be willing to accept the consequences of your actions, and that your advocacy may well be to the detriment of individuals you know and love.
So vote if you want to. But do not place yourself on a pedestal for doing so.
America was founded on the principles described in our U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. John Locke, an English philosopher, and physician, who was an influential writer in the Enlightenment period, believed that all people were born free and voting was a natural right of the self-governed. His beliefs are woven into the fabric of our nation. As Americans, we were awarded many inherent and inalienable rights. These rights include participating in our election process by signing petitions, working the polls and voting for candidates. Voting is an essential part of our democratic republic. We can vote to elect individuals to the three branches of our government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Voters, eighteen and over can vote for their President, their representatives in Congress, and judges that are not on the Supreme Court.