The Problem with Voting

I don't go into a tanning parlor when I'm looking for flowers or craft supplies. When I'm hungry, I go to the grocery store, or a restaurant - not to a hardware store, or a car wash. Why would I vote for centralized government when I consider it an anti-social institution, and my conscientious objections to it dictate that I protest - not by 'protest voting' for a third party candidate - but by choosing to withhold my vote? If I desire self-government and individual liberties, it seems reasonable to conclude that my vote for any presidential candidate ought to reflect my belief that the electoral contest itself is valid and I have a reasonable chance of protecting individual liberties by voting. If voting cannot protect my interests, but may appear to suggest that I consent to theft-by-winner, why vote at all?

Perhaps I can vote for a candidate who has promised to protect the liberties I cherish, and who honestly means to keep his promises. Can I vote for him without lending my vote to the office he runs for? Can I place my bet on a horse race and demand my money back if my horse doesn't win? No, I don't think the vote works that way, and the only way I see to vote against the system and the inevitable results of an election my candidate can't win is by not voting at all. It's a heck of a choice, and I understand why people are willing to "throw their votes away" to support a candidate, but I don't understand people who won't support a non-voter's right to withhold a vote and register a protest against the system that excludes their candidate or doesn't allow for a candidate who represents their interests.

A vote is a vote for government, and however earnest or admirable a third party candidate may seem, a vote for one of them is still a vote for government that I cannot cast in good conscience. If the act of voting reflects support for a centralized system of government, it may not matter much who the winner is when I disregard my objections to the institution itself. Neither George W. Bush nor John Kerry pose any particular threat to me without the power of office they wield, and voting for any man or woman to hold the office skirts the issue most crucial to me. Whether I mean my vote to reflect approval on the eventual winner or not, no one will consult my intentions when the winner is declared, but the fact that I expressed a preference becomes a matter of record. The fact that I might object to the reigns of power conferred on the winner won't register with anyone unless I withhold my vote and add one to the negative column. Call it civil disillusionment, if you like.

I object to the idea of making a sport of social dominance - in such a game, the only thing I find less palatable than playing for the losing team is playing for the winning team, and considering the options it suits me best not to play at all or cheer for either side. It's not a game I can applaud anyone for winning, or even wanting to win, and I find it sad that so many people play the worst sort of game with the best of motives. That seems rather like thinking that enough seasoning will make spoiled food edible again, but making it easier to swallow means it's likely to go farther and damage my digestive system. Why take part in a sport that turns my stomach? I don't go in for bullfighting or long for the games of the Roman Coliseum, and I've seen enough noble gladiators become food for the lions not to cheer for them when they enter the arena of politics. Fools rush in where gazelles fear to tread, and I'd rather see lions make a sport of eating gazelles than watch them eat the rare Galahads I might want to vote for. Lions need exercise, not obesity made easy.

If scavenging for scarce votes was the big game of political predators, perhaps we'd have fewer of them prowling around - reduce demand, the supply may run off eventually. We all know that candidates thrive on votes, and hate to appear ridiculous. Gee, what would happen if they held an election and nobody showed up? When will we ever learn?

Why should I vote for any kind of government that I don't personally want, and prefer not to inflict on my neighbors? Otherwise sensible people will argue, "Well, we elect people to govern us whether you like it or not." "Fine," I'd like to answer, "Where do I opt out of the contract you have chosen to opt into? If I am not free from service to your ideal form of government or society, where is your freedom from serving mine next time? Perhaps the results of this election are vital to you because you realize that someone's liberties are at stake in it, and you don't want to lose the freedoms that feel most important to you." If the only choice I can make that respects the liberties of every individual is to abstain from voting at all, that in itself is reason enough for me to abstain, however much flack I may receive for listening to my conscience and not-voting according to it.

The whole attitude underlying partisan politics is that freedoms must not be equal; no one gains unless someone else loses. Something seems very wrong to me with the picture of winners who celebrate political victory in the full knowledge that it comes at the expense of both liberty and equality of some, for the benefit of others. Better to be on the losing side and understand what you've lost, than to suppose you've won in playing a game that leaves everyone more wretched, regardless of which side you might choose to be on.

Vote as your conscience dictates, or don't vote, but don't go into the business of dictating to people what their conscience should lead them to do. If your conscience guides you to vote, do it, but if your conscience leads you to pressure people into voting against their conscience, perhaps you don't really believe in equal rights, and liberties only matter until you feel like a winner in the political sweepstakes contest. Winning means everything to some people, and perhaps they're the ones who have the most to gain from losing.

This 2004 election has been particularly repugnant to endure, because of an abundance of well meaning artists and activists exhorting people to vote. Haven't these "rock the vote" enthusiasts ever experienced what happens when you rock a boat? Perhaps the Titanic that our government has become is doomed to capsize, but that's the time to help people off the boat, not onto it to rock it! Rocking the ship of state carelessly could submerge a ship full of unwary voters into a sea of disappointments. Sadly, I have watched a couple of my personal heroes succumb to voting madness - one reluctantly, and one with gusto. Am I the only one who takes hope and comfort in the fact that the youth vote fell short of expectations? The kids are alright - if they've got better things to do, more power to the young people. It's your power, people - why give politicians a mandate to take it away?

No, I didn't vote. Winning wasn't worth the price, even if my vote might have bought the candidate of my dreams. My vote was too toxic a treasure to waste on winning at anyone else's expense, because I dream of a world where individuals are truly free and have equal opportunities with justice for all. Go ahead and give me hell for not voting for my idea of heaven, but don't tell me to "vote my conscience" when it told me not to vote. Vote your conscience, but mind your own politics - my voting is not your affair, and my conscience does not take dictation from yours. I'll take responsibility for putting my vote where my values are, and any advice to invest my vote carelessly, I consider poor and inappropriate. A fool and her vote are quickly separated, and I prefer not to think myself anybody's fool.

Voting is a means to questionable ends, and questioning the means seems like a sensible step toward examining the ends, even if the effort earns no respect - respect sometimes comes as cheaply as the price of a misspent vote. My vote is not for sale in any respect because I consider it too valuable to pawn. Nothing pawned, nothing wasted. I feel that abstaining represented my interests. If anyone cares to interpret that as apathy, perhaps they're correct. I don't really care which of two unappealing candidates won - that choice seems like a restaurant offering vegetarians the choice of pork or beef at the counter, and explaining that the "rabbit food" options on the take-out menu were deceptive advertising intended to lure vegetarians in. No thanks, I'll brown bag my vote.


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