As unpopular as this view might be to some, I will not be encouraging people to show up and vote. I think the arguments behind encouraging a greater voter turnout are flawed and unsound.
Disclaimer: It’s no secret to most of my friends, that I am not a huge fan of democracy. This doesn’t make me a communist, nor does it mean that I support some other authoritarian or tyrannical government. For the moment, I would still say that democracy is our best option but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I just dislike it less than the other options.
In my view, the biggest problem with democracy is not the concept of democracy itself, in fact, like many forms of government, it would probably be fantastic for Utopia. (An interesting aside on Sir Thomas More’s invention of the term Utopia — the word comes from the Greek: οὐ “not” and τόπος “place” and means “no place“. The English homophone eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ “good” or “well” and τόπος “place“, means “good place” [Source: Wikipedia]). So, I would agree that democracy could make a great Utopian state, but by that measure so would an autocratic communist state (which is how one would describe the current view of heaven according to most Christians).
The problem with democracy isn’t necessarily its goals nor its ideals. The biggest problem with democracy is its execution, application and implementation. While there are many ways in which I believe the implementation of democracy can be vastly improved, this is not something that we will be able to do before November 3rd (or likely anytime soon). Also, in my view, many of the problems with democracy’s execution and application are either directly caused or exacerbated by encouraging a high voter turnout.
I have a bunch of friends who are sending out messages on social networks encouraging everyone to vote with slogans like ‘We all need to show up and vote’ and ‘Every vote matters’. Ironically, I believe that ‘Every vote matters’ is a good argument against the former. I’m going to break down some of the statements I’ve heard encouraging high voter turnout to show why I believe this.
A higher voter turnout means a more effective democracy
I can’t think of any other sphere where simply more opinions is equated with a better result. Who would rather go into a large room of people and ask them if they should have their appendix removed rather than asking a single doctor? It should seem self-evident that what we need is informed opinion more than just any opinion. I think it’s also self-evident that the only context in which it would make sense to ask the crowded room is if it was a room full of doctors and ideally, a room full of surgeons and immunologists.
Not all opinions are equally valid, and treating them as if they are is just absurd. Again, what we want to act on is informed opinions. This is a core problem with democracy that is very difficult to resolve. How do we determine whose opinion is sufficiently informed to take it into consideration? We’re all better served if uninformed opinions are ignored, yet the process of deciding which opinions are uninformed would need to be performed by a sufficiently informed group or institution. The resolution of this problem would appear to be a catch 22.
Low voter turnout tells politicians we don’t care
I think it’s already clear to politicians that we don’t care. Apathy isn’t a problem of voter turnout, it’s a problem with the electorate in general. Not because we don’t show up at the polls, but because we don’t bother to engage in the process (other than voting) nor do we spend sufficient time learning about the issues. Because we’re lazy, apathetic and uninterested, politicians use tactics in campaigns that are geared to popularity contests full of soundbites. If we actually did care, we would expect meaningful and insightful content from politicians and we would hold them to the fire if they only fed us vacuous rhetoric delivered in short slogans. Meaningful content is rarely what we get however. Instead, we’re treated like we know more about American Idol contestants or sports teams than real issues that affect us.
Elected officials need to know they have our full attention
Elected officials need to know that they have reasoned attention, not just blank eyeballs staring back at them. We need fact checking, intelligent responses to what they say and a strong disdain for stupidity, lies and deceit. Unfortunately, there’s almost none of this. Without reasoned attention, we end up with governments who deny climate change, suppress and censor scientific consensus and dismantle core tools necessary to come up with informed opinions rather than ‘commit sociology’ (something especially insane when you consider this: ‘define: sociology’). (This is why a good democracy also needs a free, independent media which I feel has also failed us, but that’s another topic.)
Every vote matters
As I stated earlier, I actually agree with this statement, not because of the meaning likely intended, but because it is what Dennett would call a ‘deepity’. Votes do matter, and that’s just a trivial and obvious fact. However, the implications of voting is why it should be considered a responsibility more than a right. To vote responsibly, you need to act responsibly. Voters need to examine the options and platforms of all of the candidates and also do their best to understand their impact and consequences. The reality is that few people do this, either due to lack of time, resources, inclination or apathy and ignorance. While it’s unfortunate that people could otherwise be responsible voters if they had more time and resources, why should we compel them to vote? While I agree that this is not optimal and needs addressing, this is clearly a ‘two wrongs’ scenario — compelling someone to vote irresponsibly only makes the problem worse.
Voting benefits people who participate
Tautologically speaking, good voting benefits everyone not only those who show up to the polls. Uninformed and/or bad decisions, even if they’re popular do not benefit anyone, ever. So, in my view, this statement is a reason to encourage people to vote responsibly. Nobody is going to look out for your interests as well as you are, so you should act responsibly toward yourself (as well as your fellow citizens), inform yourself as much as you can and vote. If you’re not going to do that, do yourself and the rest of us a favour and stay home.
“It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.” — Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (1929)