Political interlude

www.inkthinkerblog.com — Writing is good, and so is the First Amendment, and I’m going to use both when I tell you that I’m sick and tired of hearing folks say things like “If you don’t vote, you should be deported,” or “Vote or I’ll smack you,” or anything else that implies that choosing not to vote makes one somehow less worthy of living (safely) in a country that is built on and promotes choices. Yes, folks have every right to say it/think it/paint it on a sign, but somewhere we seem to have forgotten that voting is a right, not a legal obligation, and a right is “a power or liberty to which one is justly entitled, or a thing to which one has a just claim.”* It is not something one is obligated to take advantage of or participate in. Voting is compulsory in these countries, but not in the United States of America. Here, it’s a choice, and if someone chooses not to exercise that right, they’re taking advantage of it just the same as someone who does choose to vote. Just something to think about between now and the next election.

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13 comments… add one
  • Nov 9, 2006

    I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone say, “If you don’t vote, you should be deported.” However, I have often said, publicly, “If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.” And I think that’s fair. I would just as soon that people who are too ignorant or apathetic to make an informed choice not vote. But when those same people turn around and start bitching about the results of an election (or complaining about their lot in life, which often amounts to the same thing), I have the right to ignore their whining.

    This time around, though, a lot of people felt motivated to vote, and I consider that a good thing, given the generally declining voter turnout of recent decades. It’s nice to see voters taking responsibility back from the pollsters and pundits and realizing that every vote does indeed count.

  • Nov 9, 2006

    I agree that if one doesn’t make a concerted effort to change a situation, one shouldn’t complain about it. If one does complain but made a conscious choice not to do something about it, well, shut up already, you had your chance, buddy. My point, which I think you’ve grasped, is that it’s about choices. Bob chooses to vote, Sue chooses not to vote, both are exercising their rights. I don’t think the Dixie Chicks should be hung for treason for speaking out against the war (there’s that pesky First Amendment again!), and I don’t think choosing not to vote is something that should be persecuted. Discussed, certainly, but that’s where it should end, in my opinion.

  • Nov 9, 2006


    I never looked at it this way. And, you know? Now, I can back off my husband for not voting. It is a right – a choice. And, if one chooses not to vote, the right is still exercised. Still, I do think those who don’t vote shouldn’t complain about the leadership – good or bad – we get stuck with.

    Ayana Glaze
    Fellow Freelance Copywriter

  • Nov 9, 2006

    Ayana, that’s the most rewarding response I could ever ask for to a post like this: “I never looked at it this way.” Thank you!


  • Nov 9, 2006

    I agree that I hadn’t thought of it this way before–I get pretty down on my family for their apathy…I’ll just adopt Dick’s premise that if you don’t vote, you dont’ get to complain. Seems like a good, nonjudmental stance. BTW, I voted. And am encouraged by the results this time :)

  • Nov 9, 2006

    I don’t think it’s fair to say “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Not only do you have a right (not) to vote, you also have a right to complain about the circumstances that led you to withhold participation.

    Personally, I do vote. I agree that it is a right and not a legal obligation. I do, however, see it as a civic responsibility (albeit and optional one) and tend to believe that my participation is net beneficial as compared to withholding my vote do to a general disgust with the options presented.

    However, I leave plenty of room for people to act as they please. I don’t mind the fact that there are many highly-motivated non-voters who won’t “play along” because they are disgusted with the process. That’s an act of dissent and a means by which one can, at least theoretically, usher in change. I don’t really think it’s the best way to create positive change, though, so I don’t follow that route.

    However, I don’t really appreciate those who don’t vote out of laziness or apathy. That kind of behavior is perfectly legal and people are well within their rights to be uninterested in the political process. I’ll never argue that anyone should be deported or smacked upside the head because they stayed at home instead of going to the polls.

    However, having the right to do something doesn’t make the action right. You can be within your rights and dead wrong. That’s what I tend to think about non-voters. They are making a poor decision, in most cases, to not participate.

    If your a non-voter, feel free to keep skipping elections without any fear that I will tell you to move elsewhere or that you aren’t allowed to complain. However, don’t expect me to think that your inaction is smart or something I’ll appreciate.


  • Nov 9, 2006

    Carson, great comment. This goes back to the whole freedom of expression thing. Anyone who wants to can complain about whatever he things deserves complaining. What I’m saying (and what I think Dick is saying, but I don’t want to speak for him) is that you have a right to choose not to vote and you have a right to complain about world conditions (because hey, let’s face it, they’re not great), BUT it’s irritating when folks complain, complain, complain, and twiddle their thumbs. Let’s go back to my original point about not busting on folks who choose not to vote. If someone gets all crankypants about folks not voting, that person can complain about it (or make stupid comments like “You should be deported for not voting”), or that person can work to educate people about the nationwide impact of voting and why he or she feels it’s important. That’s not complaining–that’s acting. If someone chooses not to vote, that person has the same option of talking about his or her beliefs and educating others on them.

    I’d counter, though, that not voting is NOT inaction. Both voting and not voting are conscious choices, which by definition makes them both actions. How you feel about one versus the other is another conversation entirely, but I do think that’s a point worth making.


  • Nov 9, 2006

    I have no problem with someone choosing not to vote because they have a deepseated belief that is a protest, and if they are taking other ACTIONS to put their beliefs into practice.

    However, in my experience, most people who don’t vote are lazy whiners, and they HAVE forfeited the right to complain because they do nothing to instigate change.

    If you don’t like something, whethere it’s in your life or out in the world, CHANGE IT. Don’t sit around and whine about it.

    There’s one thing to talking it out and brainstorming and discussing ideas — but another in expecting everyone else to do it for you and only complaining.

    Also, I strongly feel, especially as a woman, not to vote is to disrespect all the foremothers (and forefathers) ahead of me who fought so hard to make sure I COULD vote.

    Every vote I cast is a gesture of honor to those who came before, as well as my way of creating change.

    On one hand, I think voting SHOULD be compulsory in this country;however, it would be just another area of corruption.

    To date, I’ve only met one person in my life who CHOSE not to vote as a deeply held poltical belief/action. The rest were just lazy and trying to justify their laziness.

    And one didn’t want to serve jury duty, which really pissed me off. Because it’s part of your responsbility as a citizen. I’d certainly rather have a peer of mine on a jury than just someone who had nothing better to do that day.

  • Nov 9, 2006

    Great comment, D.E. Something to keep in mind, though, is that many folks choose not to vote not as a deeply held political belief but rather a deeply held religious belief. My argument against compulsory voting would be that it would make it illegal for people to act according to their respective consciences, which for many means not participating in political affairs in any way. Something else to think about.


  • Nov 9, 2006

    “I’d counter, though, that not voting is NOT inaction. Both voting and not voting are conscious choices, which by definition makes them both actions. How you feel about one versus the other is another conversation entirely, but I do think that’s a point worth making.”

    That’s certainly true, but there is a difference between intentional or meaningful inaction and inadvertent or lazy inaction.

    Again, I have no problem with EVERYONE griping about the way things are regardless of their political participation levels.

    However, I will remain disappointed in those whose “decision” not to vote is rooted more in intellectual laziness, apathy, or an unwillingness to develop “big picture skills.”

    As for those who refuse to vote in protest… I don’t think that’s wise, but I can respect, appreciate and discuss the kind of thought that leads to that decision.

    As for those who don’t vote due to religious convictions… Well, I’d respect that decision but I would also be willing to take exception with any faith that put those kind of limitations on one’s participation in the political process. That’s a different discussion, though.

    Just curious, what religious groups are staying out of the democratic process?


  • Nov 9, 2006

    Some denominations of Christianity don’t vote or participate in miliary actions because of their religious beliefs. Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind first, though I know there are others (which, of course, I can’t think of right now). I think it really does come down to a matter of conscience for those who abstain from political activity (or anything else for that matter) for religious beliefs rather than limitation, though you’re certainly welcome to take exception with the fundamental belief structure of any religion if you disagree with it or its execution.

    I do agree that there’s a difference between being a slacker and being a conscientious objector. I think Thoreau would agree, and would approve of your comment, as do I. ;]

  • Nov 9, 2006

    My oh my, what a great discussion. And here I was actually concentrating on a project all day (darn those deadlines) and missed it all.

    Let me add a couple of remarks. On Kristen’s point that some religious groups abstain from voting, I believe that’s true of at least the Amish and possibly other of the Anabaptist sects (Mennonites, Brethren).

    But on the political choice not to vote as a protest, the problem is that you get lumped in with the people who don’t vote because of apathy or ignorance. A potentially more effective technique, if you can organize enough like-minded people to join you–and this is something I was involved in during the 1968 presidential election, to no avail, unfortunately–is to go to the polling place, go into the voting booth (so they count you as having voted) and simply not select a candidate if you don’t like any of them. It’s essentially a none-of-the-above strategy. If the discrepancy between the number of people showing up and the number of votes cast is large enough, somebody will eventually get the message.

  • Nov 9, 2006

    Thank you, Dick. The Amish is the other obvious group I was thinking of, and I’m nearly positive that the Mennonites also abstain from political and military activity.

    It’s funny, my understanding is that in countries where voting is compulsory, what folks there do is exactly what you suggest. You’re really required to show up at the polling place and have your name checked off, but they have no control over what you do once you’re in the voting booth.

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