Stop Shaming People Who Don't Vote

You aren't an abhorrent citizen failing to perform your civic duty if you abstain from voting.

Caught between opening days for several professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, and NHL to name a few) and the year-end holiday season is the midterm election cycle.

'Tis the Season against Reason

There are few states in the union where one can escape the endless yard signs. Every television channel is flooded with commercials that comically paint some political adversary in black and white, accompanied by smooth baritone voices slinging ominous barbs.

The various House, Senate, and governorship races serve the dual role of setting the legislative tone between now and the next presidential election, while also serving up a referendum on the gentleman <cough> who occupies the White House—and, by extension, his party. As such, a favorable result for the executive’s troop would signal some degree of contentment with the president’s performance, while an unfavorable result suggests a rejection of his agenda or how it’s been carried out.

If these adverts were to be believed, viewers would conclude that the opposing candidates share little-to-no common ground.

If these dueling adverts were to be believed, viewers would conclude that the opposing candidates share little-to-no common ground. In fact, there may only be two things on which the major parties and their supporters agree. The first is that the current election is the most important election of our lifetime. The second point of agreement is that the most abhorrent citizens—even worse than the ignorant boobs that voted for the wrong candidate—is the vile non-voter.

Indeed, if this election is the one that history will judge as the turning point for Western civilization, then a willful non-participant must be viewed as an other-person. How dare they not fulfill their civic duty! But I reject this condemnation of those who choose not to choose. Quite the contrary—I believe in abstinence education when it comes to the ballot box.

Congressional Disapproval

If you ask almost any registered voter how he feels about the performance of Congress as a whole, he’ll respond, “Throw the bums out!” This is certainly no surprise considering the data from congressional approval polls, especially since 2010. A Gallup poll conducted this year revealed a congressional job approval rating of only 21 percent, which was actually an improvement over the all-time low of 9 percent in 2013. With numbers like that, it’s little wonder why public sentiment bodes significant changes ahead.

Despite the electorate’s virtually unanimous ire for Capitol Hill, there’s little historical evidence to suggest any drastic change on the horizon as incumbent reelection rates have been towering since World War II. Incumbent governors have been re-elected in 73 percent of races, surpassed by senators who survive reelection 80 percent of the time. Both are dwarfed by House incumbents, who tally a re-election rate of 93 percent! These numbers have been even more skewed since 2016, clocking in at 80 percent, 93 percent, and 97 percent, respectively.

Almost half of Americans surveyed approve of the job that their own congressional representative is doing, while only a fifth feel the same about Congress as a whole.

So, if the task of throwing the bums out seems never-ending, it begs the question, “Why are the bums there in the first place?” The answer seems to be that Americans agree far less about Congress when you ask about specific members. Almost half of Americans surveyed approve of the job that their own congressional representative is doing, while only a fifth of those same respondents feels the same about Congress as a whole.

When the poll is limited to only those who can actually name their district’s representative, the representative’s approval rating rises to 62 percent. Those who can identify their representative are generally older, more educated, and lean Republican (although incumbent dominance transcends party lines). It’s difficult to fathom why such a large discrepancy exists between approvals of Congress versus individual congressmen by their own constituents. One such reason may be that a voter’s own congressman is much more likely to benefit him or his community.

Who Is Responsible for Congress's Failure?

When the results of election cycle after election cycle are more of the same, the subsequent disapproval can hardly rest on the shoulders of the politically abstinent. Detractors will argue that those who don’t vote have no right to complain about the direction the nation is taken in. This statement refers to quite a number of Americans as only 36.4 percent of eligible voters bothered to vote in the 2014 midterms. The concept of “the consent of the governed” seems shaky at best if such a small proportion of voters engage in the system at all and if a smaller fraction tallied their votes for an eventual victor.

Even when restricting the debate to active voters, author James Bovard believes they cannot possibly be classified as consenting to a politician’s every whim. Bovard writes:

Regardless if your candidate campaigned on a peace platform, you ‘consented’ to any wars he might subsequently start or support. Regardless if your candidate promised to end federal crackdowns on marijuana, you ‘consented’ to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s raids on medical cannabis cooperatives. Regardless if your candidate promised to end deficit spending, you ‘consented’ to trillions of dollars of additional federal debt. Regardless if your candidate promised transparency and honesty, you ‘consented’ to the government keeping millions of secrets and shrouding its worst abuses.

If so much can be extrapolated out of an assumed consent that was never given, then the mere act of participation in the system may be described as immoral or unethical. Some in the libertarian camp liken voting to aggression, asserting that it is simply a contest to enforce their political will upon the rest. Perhaps this is a radical view, but if the act of voting is not aggression, then why are so many terrified of their neighbors who vote “wrong?”

Further Reading

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