"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
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With Election Day looming, Americans are constantly being reminded about the importance of voting. Politicians, news media, celebrities, and talk show hosts alike wax poetic about this hallowed institution we call democracy and how crucial it is for voters to cast their ballot.
Rock the Vote! Vote for Change! Respect My Vote! Vote or Die! It’s as if the ballot box possesses some mystical power to make us all happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Except when it doesn’t. Recent polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Americans think that the country is “going in the wrong direction.”
Nearly 70% of Americans are dissatisfied with the job that the President is doing1, and Congressional job approval is even worse.2 The economy is in the tank. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low. The national debt is at an all-time high. The government is engaged in a series of unpopular wars and “strategic” military and political interventions in many foreign countries--with no end in sight.
So, what happened? These are the politicians that the voters chose to represent them. This is the President that the people asked for. This is the Congress that the citizenry demanded. Is it possible that voters made a mistake?
Nah, that can’t be it. Voters are generally well-informed, educated, thoughtful creatures who base their electoral decisions on objective reasoning and rational thought.
Except when they don’t.
So, perhaps voters simply had a lapse in judgment and unintentionally elected a handful of politicians that broke their campaign promises and didn’t have their best interests at stake. What can be done about it?
“Let’s vote them all out,” say the disgruntled electorate. “Fire every one of them. After all, they work for us!”
A wonderfully idealistic sentiment, no doubt. It should be easy enough, right? After all, there are a lot of unhappy folks out there. All that’s needed is to convince a majority of voters not to vote for the incumbent when he or she is up for re-election.
Except that it’s not that easy. Congressional incumbents are re-elected about 95% of the time, thanks to gerrymandering laws and certain privileges that entrenched politicians have generously provided themselves.3 So, “voting the bastards out” is not a legitimate option.
“But voting is important,” they say. “Voting allows your voice to be heard. After all, every vote counts!”
Except when it doesn’t. Expecting your “voice to be heard” by voting is akin to screaming at the top of your lungs in a gigantic sports arena filled to capacity with raucous fans and expecting the players on the field to hear what you’re saying.
Besides, what makes the “voice” of one person or one group more important than another’s? After all, government is a zero-sum game. The State cannot satisfy the wants or needs of one individual or group without subjugating others as a result.
Still, Americans overwhelmingly favor a representative democracy that provides equal representation under the law. According to this political philosophy, the people in a defined geographic district use the voting process to select a government official--a Congressional representative--to speak for them and represent their best interests.
In theory, it sounds like a good idea. The problem is that most Americans don’t even know who their representative is.
A Kaiser Foundation poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans could not name their Congressional representative. Half did not know whether their representative was a Republican or a Democrat.4
Furthermore, many did not know basic facts regarding how the federal government works. Nearly half didn’t know that the U.S. Supreme Court has the final responsibility for deciding whether a law is constitutional. Three out of four were unaware that U.S. senators are elected to serve six-year terms.
So, most Americans don’t know who “represents” them in Congress, what party they belong to, how they vote on important issues, or how the political system works. If this is true, how can their “representative” possibly embody their best interests, or the interests of their community? They can’t. It’s that simple.
So, why even bother voting?
“But, if you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain,” they say.
Whenever I hear this humorous non-sequitur, I’m reminded of a wonderful quote by the late, great George Carlin from one of his stand-up routines. In this one, he explains why he doesn’t vote:
“If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent people and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem. You voted them in. You have no right to complain.”
By, George, I think he’s got it! If you exercise your “right” to vote, you should be “responsible” for the outcome as well – even if the intent was not malicious.
Let’s say, for example, voters elect a corrupt politician who absconds with millions of dollars in public funds. Shouldn’t the voters who pulled the lever for the dishonest official in question be held responsible, perhaps even legally liable, for his actions? After all, if they had not put him in a position of power, he could not have committed the crimes.
A getaway driver in a bank heist would be arraigned for manslaughter if his partners-in-crime shot and killed an innocent bystander while committing the robbery, even though he did not pull the trigger. The concept of voter responsibility and accountability is not much different.
So, what do voters get by casting their vote in November?
They get the privilege of electing “representatives” whom they know little about, who know nothing about them, who will renege on their campaign promises, in order to increase the role of the State in our economic and personal lives by waging endless wars overseas, expanding the welfare state, implementing laws that will directly (often adversely) affect their lives, and creating trillions more in debt that will be passed on to future generations of Americans.
Rock the Vote? No, thanks.
I say Toss the Vote. In the trash. Stay away from the ballot box. Voting is an exercise in futility. It accomplishes nothing, and typically does far more harm than good.
By refusing to vote, you are refusing to legitimize the outcome of the election and the criminal behavior of the political class.
As Election Day becomes a distant memory and the newest members of the political class impose their economic incompetence and legislative ineptitude upon the citizenry, non-voters can take solace in the fact that they did not sanction the behavior.
1. President Bush Job Approval. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_bush_job_approval-904.html#polls
2. Congressional Job Approval. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/congressional_job_approval-903.html#polls
3. “What High School Teachers Should Know about Congressional Elections.” http://www.congresslink.org/print_expert_congressionalelections.htm