Dear voters, Please stay home.

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: οὐnot” and τόποςplace” and means “no place“. The English homophone eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖgood” or “well” and τόποςplace“, 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)

11 thoughts on “Dear voters, Please stay home.

  1. I mostly agree with those arguments, but there’s one counter-argument that’s definitely swaying me: the sampling of the people who do vote is not nearly uniform, and from my point of view, seems to be strongly biased toward more right wing views that I very much do not like. For all sorts of reasons, the last ones to stop voting are on the right. So, as far as I can tell, if we took all the people who could vote but do not, and made them vote *randomly*, it seems the outcomes would still have good odds of being better.

    That, in itself, is kind of depressing, as it fits with your arguments pretty well, but in the meantime, I’d like better outcomes, even if it’s so frustratingly incremental…

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      I would definitely rather that people vote than not vote, but uninformed voting is random at best, or at worse, it teaches those running for office that they can get away with vacuous campaigns. When I see what’s going on in the US, I’m amazed at what the electorate will tolerate. Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and their ilk are an embarrassment to society as a whole. I would like to think that with an informed and educated electorate these bozos wouldn’t even bother running, because they would have no chance of success.

      1. The places that elect the Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann often have very poor turnouts, where the more left wing members of the electorate just doesn’t bother anymore. This is what I do NOT want. Random voting might not defeat those kind of candidates, but would at least give them weaker mandates…

  2. One of the biggest problems in Brazil (perhaps the root of all problems here) is the combination of mandatory vote + terribly uneducated majority. A lot of people spoil their ballots out of frustration/protest, which I think is an excellent option. Both for the jaded AND for the uninformed.

    1. You might find this funny, but I used to be a supporter of a mandatory voting system like they have in Australia. I definitely don’t support that anymore, but I would support some sort of effort that would encourage more civic engagement.

      Thanks for the comment!

      1. Here it isn’t the case, but some places count the spoiled ballots, and in order to win, you need to have the majority of *all* votes, including the spoiled ones, so in some cases where none of the candidates strong enough support to get a majority, they throw out the results and redo it, with a strong signal of “you ALL suck, get your shit together”.

  3. “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” – W. Chruchill.

    Your main reason not to vote are that things are not perfect enough. They never will be.

    Over the centuries, many men and women died to acquire the right to vote and establish the sovereignty of the people over the power of dictators and tyrants. Going to vote, if only to keep that “institution” – the vote – and democracy alive, is an amply sufficient reason.

    If too many people stop voting, the right to vote will fall in desuetude, democracy will grind to halt like a rusted mechanism and we will be far worse off, no matter how bad you think things are now.

    I always vote. And I always keep the gears and the chain of my bicycle well oiled.

    Go put your drop of oil on the gears of democracy. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for others.

    If you are not mechanically inclined, consider this instead :

    Male sexual potency depends on the organ being kept in use. So it is with democracy and the right to vote : use it or lose it. F..k or be f..ed!

    1. Thanks for the insightful response, it does give me a different perspective that I wasn’t expecting — I definitely prefer the mechanical analogy.

  4. I think that voting misinformed, or un-infortmed, somehow keeps the machinery going, which prevents rusting. Our democracy suffers from arthrosis, mildly I hope, but who knows, and it needs to keep moving to avoid sclerosis and atrophy. Let them vote and feel disappointed, and deceived, and fooled, that they may shocked or at least wake up, and decide to to their work, i. e. get informed and involved!

    1. I think part of the problem is that even getting involved in any way (other than paying attention and showing up at the polls every 4 years) isn’t easy. I suspect people would get more involved if there were simpler ways to do this. Time for someone in poli-sci to tackle this one!

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