On Voting

Today is the day of the general election in the United States of America. It is the most important election of our lifetimes! You must vote! If you don’t vote, you are in fact voting for the worst candidate in history! You have a duty and an obligation to vote! Furthermore, you have an obligation and duty to vote for one of the two major parties, because voting third party is in fact voting for the major candidate you like the least. Voting for the lesser of two evils is absolved from any moral implication of supporting evil. Of course, if you don’t vote you can’t complain, because as it says in my made-up copy of the Constitution: “All citizens shall have the right to complain if and only if they have voted.”  The take away: Vote or leave the country, you democracy hating, ignorant, stupid, terrible, anarchist – you know where you can move? Somalia, have fun there with no omniglorious democratically elected government.

Wait! None of that is true, except that today is the day of the general election. You do not have an obligation or duty to vote, much less to vote for only one of the two major parties. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil, and even if you choose not to vote you still have a right to complain. In fact, voting is a hard-won right and, therefore, it is ludicrous (and dangerous) to claim that people must vote. This may be an unpopular position, but it is far more reasonable and humane than claiming that people are required by some civic or moral bond to cast a ballot for a political leader once in a given number of years.

One reason why one has no obligation to vote is that in national (and, often, state) elections a single vote does not matter (break out your pitch-forks, torches, and slogans: “every vote matters!”). The economists, Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter, assembled the data for 40,036 state and federal legislative elections and found only eight elections that were determined by a single vote, only one of which was a federal election. Thus, one the basis of purely individualistic mathematical analysis, a single vote does not matter. Only when many votes come together to achieve some real result (i.e. if you want to vote do not be deterred that your single vote will not really have tremendous impact). Some may claim that simply that it statistically does not matter, one still have a moral or civic duty to vote.

Is it a moral duty, or obligation to vote?  The simple answer is: no. It is hard to see how one can have a moral duty to vote for politicians that likely will enact or help enact immoral laws and advance immoral positions. Even if one believes that their favored politician truly is omniglorious and omnibenevolent, this hardly translates into a moral duty to vote in the abstract. There is no moral duty to participate in a system that one does not like, no moral duty to have a voice in a society’s governance, certainly no moral duty to check a small box on a ballot. Even if there were a moral duty to vote there would certainly not be a moral duty to vote for the “lesser-of-two-evils.” Indeed, that would seem to contradict most moral theories, as most moral theories tend to be against evil. It is hard to see why there would exist some moral duty to vote, but isn’t there a civic duty to vote?

The answer is no, there is no civic duty to vote. At least in the United States, there is no legal civic duty to vote, if there were it would be illegal not to vote. However, some would say that there is an extralegal civic duty to vote. A duty to pay alliance to the government that protects the citizens; a duty to honor those that fought for the right to vote; a duty, in short, to prove that you are a good and responsible citizen that cares about their country. There is no such duty, especially if you believe that the government does not protect or does not represent your interests. A civic duty to vote implies that to vote is to consent to the system.

This belief, closely tied for some to “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” is utterly wrongheaded and dangerous. What is strange is that many anarchist libertarians repeat the mantra that “voting is consenting to the system,” yet, also say that tacit consent does not really exist. They are absolutely correct that tacit consent to governance does not exist, but apparently they stop using logic when it comes to voting. Voting is nothing more, to quote the abolitionist, individualist anarchist, Constitutional lawyer Lysander Spooner, than replacing the “bullet” for the “ballot.” Indeed, Lysander Spooner makes a powerful case for voting, even though it is not an effective mechanism, a moral obligation, or a civic duty:

In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself that crushes them was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

Vote today, or don’t vote today: it’s your choice, it’s your right. Vote, or don’t vote, but, either way remember that this election doesn’t (really) matter.

















Also, thank God that this election is finally over (hopefully, I wrote this like two weeks ago, who knows what’ll happen tonight, Trump may legally contest the election, or something, but, at least it should be over now). Even as a political junkie this election has been a bit too much to handle, after this, I can go back to my regular arguments against the government without being associated with a political candidate.