August 18, 2012
Those who vote in presidential elections often describe the action as being part of their civic duty; it’s something every good citizen must do. Others consider voting to be a right, and elections are something which every American should participate in. After all, they remind us, not everyone has this right in other countries. Still, there are others who see voting as both a duty and a right, as if it could be both at the same time.
So when voter turnout was abysmally poor during last week’s primaries in Kansas and Missouri, many were upset. Talk radio hosts, Internet pundits, and members of the media all commented on the low participation rate, and quite a few were disturbed by the numbers. Kansas City, Missouri for instance, had a voter turnout of only 15%. Now, it’s generally understood that primaries and midterms have lower voter participation rates than presidential election years, so this ought not to surprise anyone, but there is some hope this year’s elections will have the lowest turnout of the last fifty.
When asked by USA Today and Suffolk University why they’re not planning to vote this November, respondents answered that: “They’re too busy. They aren’t excited about either candidate. Their vote doesn’t really matter. And nothing ever gets done, anyway.” All are excellent reasons, especially the last two, for they lay bare the great lie that elections solve anything. The results of the poll indicate that some 90 million Americans have no intention to vote in this year’s presidential election; let’s hope that number swells over the coming months.
Curtis Gans, who is director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, had this to say regarding why so few are expected to vote:
There’s a lot of lack of trust in our leaders, a lack of positive feelings about political institutions, a lack of quality education for large segments of the public, a lack of civic education, the fragmenting effects of waves of communications technology, the cynicism of the coverage of politics – I could go on with a long litany.
As far as a lack of civic education, this may be true, but it’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the government school systems. In every election cycle students in government schools vote on the national candidates; being homeschooled I never participated in such conditioning, but I distinctly remember my second-grade friends voting in the 1992 election for Bill Clinton. Students even hold their own elections, to choose from within their own ranks politicians who’re supposed to advocate for them with the administration, in order to get longer recess, treats in the cafeteria, and who knows what else. It’s one of the more disturbing attempts to indoctrinate children in the civic religion of democracy. But it’s not always successful.
One of those polled, Jamie Palmer, 35, has never voted, and good for her; if only I had could have such a clear conscience. When asked why she hadn’t, her reply was “[politicians] say the same things; they make promises; they don’t keep them. It’s ridiculous. If I vote, nothing is going to come of it. It’s just going to be like it is right now.” Fortunately, she was never fooled by the teachers shilling for the state at her school.
When discussing the issue of politics most people will argue that if you don’t vote it’s because you’re lazy, unpatriotic, or part of the problem with society. These are people who were taught what to think, not how to think.
As for the lazy charge, it may be true in many cases, but certainly not all of them. The USA Today poll indicated that at least some people didn’t want to take the time to follow politics or go to the polls, so not voting was less a deliberate choice as opposed to simply being a low priority. But for the vast majority of non-voters that I know, it’s a conscious choice they’ve made based on sound principles. They have clear and well thought out arguments against voting, but in no way could they be considered lazy. They are instead wrapped up in educating others, they are journalists, organizers, activists, and dedicated to fostering parallel institutions to compete with and hopefully replace those of the corporatist/statist system now in place.
It is indeed true that many who vote are patriots, but sadly their priorities are skewed. They conflate the government with society, believing the two are synonymous, and that to insult one is an equal affront to the other. In some ways they are correct, but only because government has fully usurped the authority of civil society and dictates virtually every human action. But this is not how things ought to be, for the state has no legitimate function in a free society. Voting only entrenches this concept, further legitimizing government as benevolent caretaker, or arbiter of justice; nothing could be more wrongheaded.
Since I’ve come to realize what an immoral institution government is, the idea that those who don’t support it by voting are part of the problem seems ever more ridiculous. Americans are taught to believe that they “are the government.” This no doubt comes from Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that we have a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Given this misunderstanding of the state, coupled with the reality that no sector of our lives is free from its meddling, the logical conclusion is that voters, i.e. “government,” are the problem. After all, they voted for all of this. So if they’re unhappy with how the economy is being ran, how the environment is being neglected, or justice administered, it’s really their own fault, and non-voters should be found blameless.
Of course “we” aren’t the government. Strictly speaking, the bureaucracy is the real government, for it is the vast apparatus which carries out the daily operations of Leviathan, not some rent-seeking no-name congressman sitting in an office in D.C. But as mentioned above, electing that no-name congressman lends some credibility to the state. Without the blessing of the populace, the government would have no claim of consent, and lose any semblance of legitimate authority. This alone would not free us from sociopaths in capitols all around the world, but it would be a reflection of the attitude that the state is irrelevant.
By and large people vote because they (wrongly) believe that government is a necessary feature of society. They are unable to envision a land that doesn’t rely on a government body to provide a court system or roads, so their only option, as far as they can see, is to vote. But a population that rejects the state will also reject the idea that voting is a duty, or a right, or, incredibly, both simultaneously.
Obviously not everyone surveyed is an anarchist who has chosen to opt out of the state, but the study revealed some encouraging data. For instance, one thing gleaned from the story is that barely half of those polled disagree that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.” Exactly how many agree that no real difference exists is not clear, but knowing that so few see a difference is a positive sign for liberty.
Some other good tidbits: 40% of respondents said they won’t vote “because my vote doesn’t make any difference anyway.” Sixty percent of those polled only have high school diplomas, an indicator that less time in the Academic-Indoctrination-Industrial-Complex may translate to a diminished interest in voting. Another sixty percent said they pay no attention because “nothing ever gets done.” This is true to one extent, usually nothing good gets done, with a few rare exceptions.