|Image credit: canivote.org|
The US Presidential election is exactly one month away. This means that our seemingly interminable and utterly bizarre campaign season is finally coming to an end. What that end will look like will be determined by American voters, at least those who bother to show up.
I love voting. I’ve voted in every Presidential and midterm election since I turned 18. I have missed a couple odd-year local elections, and I feel terrible about it. I intend to keep voting until I’m legally prevented from doing so. I’ve never needed convincing, but apparently this is not the case for the roughly 40-60% of Americans who haven’t bothered to vote in recent elections.
I think everyone with the right to vote in this election should do so. Why? Here are eight reasons with objections and replies. This is obviously addressed directly to my fellow Americans, but I’d love to hear from international readers, especially since our elections affect you, too.
1. Make your voice heard.
Voting isn’t the only way to make your voice heard. You could, for instance, start a blog! I don’t even think making your voice heard is the primary reason to vote, but it is one good reason that might appeal to those with more deontological sensibilities. Voting is one of the only places in society where everyone has anything approaching an equal say. You don’t have that in your economic activity (where the wealthy reign supreme) or in most social or political organizations (where those with connections to the avenues of power have greatest influence), but you do have something like an equal voice in voting. You owe it to yourself and your dignity to use it.
But votes aren’t equal. For example, voters in non-swing states have no power to change the outcome of the Presidential election.
While it is true that voters in states like Tennessee (a deeply Republican state) or New York (a deeply Democratic state) aren’t going to sway the Presidential election, it’s not clear to me that this has any impact on whether you should vote to make your voice heard, since this is a deontological reason that stands independent of consequences. I would think that voters in non-swing states would want to make their voices heard even more as the loyal opposition. Besides, if it’s consequences you want, there are plenty of local and state elections where your vote matters. There are also some concrete effects of voting for President in non-swing states (see reason seven below).
I have philosophical objections to voting.
Fair enough. Maybe you decry the very idea of government, or maybe you think the current American systems of government are irredeemably corrupt and unjust. But then my question is: how will we ever get from where we are to where you think we should be if you don’t use what political power you have? Which is more important to you: using your ideological purity as soapbox for permanent criticism or actually making a difference?
2. Voting can make a difference.
It has become almost cliché that voting doesn’t really make a difference. But this is simply not true. For instance, the Supreme Court will affect the United States for decades to come, and whoever the next President is will likely nominate new justices. The next Presidential administration will take leadership on what, if anything, the United States will do about climate change (or whether it even believes it exists). Don’t like the gridlock in Congress? Voting in a Congressional election is one way you might do something about it. There are probably some great and not-so-great candidates in state and local elections for offices that affect everything from your local tax code to whether your state lets transgender people use the bathroom. The internet and organizations like the League of Women Voters make researching these candidates pretty easy. That you wouldn’t exercise what power you have to have an influence in all of this makes no sense to me.
But I can’t be absolutely sure that my individual vote will make any difference.
Of course not. But I’ll bet you’ve done other, scarier things without being able to predict the consequences with 100% accuracy: starting a new job, getting married, moving to a new place, making new friends, having children, etc. You can’t know that your vote will make a difference, but, contrarily, you can’t know that it won’t. Besides, voting is a collective behavior: you make a difference by being part of a whole. It’s not just about you. It’s about all of us working together to create a society. That’s one of the great things about voting (it’s also, I suspect, why some hyper-individualistic Americans don’t do it, but that’s another story which I discussed here).
I don’t like any of the candidates, I don’t want to vote for the lesser evil, and I want to vote for a candidate I believe in.
It would be nice if we always got our first choice. But here in the real world, we often don’t. I’d love to have a higher-paying job, but it wouldn’t make sense to turn down a decently paying job to remain unemployed while I wait for someone to offer me a higher-paying one. In politics, as in many other areas of life, you work with what you have to do what you can. If you think sitting out elections until the perfect candidate you believe in comes along is a viable strategy, what makes you think current politicians will listen to non-voters? Is it better to vote for someone you might be able to negotiate with in the future? Is the idea of the “lesser evil” often based on a false equivalency, especially when some candidates are clearly much, much worse than others?
What’s really at issue in a lot of this is a philosophical contrast between what I’ve called principled voting versus cooperative voting. I’ve written a lot on these issues in some previous posts here and here. My basic point was that it’s entirely rational to vote strategically in favor of the long-term good while keeping an eye on utopian imagination as a guide and inspiration; the choice between hard-nosed realism and glassy-eyed idealism is a false one.
3. It’s not hard to register, check if you’re registered, or find out where to vote.
There are numerous online resources that can tell you how to register, whether you’re registered, and what the laws are in your state. See this one and this one for instance. Registration deadlines are coming up in the next few days in many states; you can check on your state's deadline here. I used canivote.org to check whether I was registered: it took about one minute to find my polling place, what congressional district I’m in, and rules for early voting.
4. Voting doesn’t have to be time-consuming and/or difficult.
If you know you’re going to be busy on Election Day, check out your state’s rules for early voting or absentee ballots, which you may be able to find here or here. I’ve voted early and used absentee ballots before. Both are great ways to avoid the crowds on Election Day.
5. Voting is worth the trouble.
Voting can sometimes mean standing in line or putting up with a bit of bureaucracy. If you can’t vote early or absentee, then look at it this way: you probably stood in line for hours to see a Star Wars movie (if you’re a nerd like me) or for your favorite band or sports team. Is participating in the democratic process worth even half as much to you as that?
I don’t care about participating in the democratic process. Politicians are all corrupt, anyway, and I don’t want to reward their behavior.
Among other things, it’s this attitude that makes politics corrupt. Is it really true that all politicians are corrupt, including your city comptroller and school board members? It is possible that some politicians are dedicated public servants who want to improve their communities? And for those politicians who are corrupt, the best way to get rid of them is to vote them out of office when possible. The claim that politics is inherently corrupt rests on shaky foundations and functions as a lame excuse for inaction. And if you’re convinced that a particular race has two equally corrupt candidates and you don’t want to vote for the lesser evil, see reason two above.
6. You’re voting for the world.
This is something Americans often forget. Like it or not, the United States is a global superpower. Our government, perhaps more than any government on Earth, affects the rest of the world. The rest of the world, however, doesn’t get to vote in our election. But you do (if you’re legally able and registered). It sounds hyperbolic, but we are quite literally voting for the world. What kind of government do you think the world wants for America? What kind of government do you want representing you in the world? If you vote, you have some say even if others don’t. It’s a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly or casually cast aside.
But I don’t like the foreign policy of the candidates.
That’s probably healthy. There’s a lot to dislike about American foreign policy from all points on the political spectrum. But Presidents are sometimes responsive to criticism once in office. You might ask yourself which candidate will be most responsive to criticism and who has something closer to the kind of expertise and temperament you want to see in the person representing you in the world.
7. The popular vote will be taken to represent the mood of the country going forward.
This is why the popular vote matters, even if you live in a non-swing state. What do you think political parties, pundits, and potential candidates will look at when they make plans for 2018 and 2020? The data from 2016 will show them trends of what voters care about, what they respond to, who turns out to vote and where, etc.
I’m going to drop my thinly veiled neutrality for a moment to talk about Donald Trump and Trumpism. It has become cliché to denounce Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and sexism – or it would be cliché if he didn’t reinforce his views on a regular basis, including the recently released tape of him bragging about sexual assault, which crosses a line even for him.
Here’s what I said back in July about why Trump must suffer a decisive defeat on November 8, which I find just as true today, if not more so.
I’ve discussed what I think is wrong with Trump before (here, here, here, and here) and specific, concrete harms can be found here. One of the biggest things wrong with his whole campaign is that it’s normalizing bigotry in our national discourse. This is something none of his recent Republican predecessors did, not Mitt Romney, not John McCain, not even George W. Bush. I haven’t been this horrified by any Republican since Bush’s re-election in 2004. I don’t want to live in whatever “Great America” that Trump claims he can return us to. I don’t want my country represented by a President who combines dystopian wannabe fascism and immature buffoonery.
I live in a Red State where due to the Electoral College my vote will probably not directly elect Clinton. If you do live in a swing state, your vote is especially crucial. Still, I think it's important for Clinton to have a strong showing in the popular vote. This will signal a resounding rejection of the hackneyed bigotry of Trumpism.
If Trump does not lose badly this November, one shudders to think what a slightly more polished and media savvy bigot could accomplish in a future election, emboldened by the unexpected success of Trumpism in 2016. This is a point that Ethan Nichtern makes nicely in “One Buddhist Teacher’s Guide to the 2016 Election.”
There has also been some interesting discussion of the danger of Trumpism through a discussion of Plato, particularly where Trump fits into Plato’s taxonomy of views about justice and government in the Republic (Spoiler alert: None of it is very favorable to Trump) - see this one by Andrew Sullivan and this one by David Lay Williams.
As I’ve argued before, I do believe that the wave of reactionary bigotry that Trump is riding will subside eventually, but it would be better for all of us if it were to subside as quickly as possible. Voting in this election is one way to make that more likely to happen.
8. You get one of those cool “I Voted” stickers.
This one depends on the practices of your local precinct and whether you vote in person, but I think it’s kind of cool – in a totally geeky way – to rock the “I Voted” sticker. It tells people that you care about your community, your country, and the world. It tells people that you want to make your voice heard and maybe make a difference. And that you like stickers and doing your civic duty.
I don’t like stickers or doing my civic duty.
How can you not like stickers? One way to make your civic duty worthwhile is to start doing it. Sitting around waiting until it passes whatever tests you concoct for it to be worthwhile is a nice way to remain a smug contrarian, but it accomplishes nothing.
So, my fellow Americans, I hope you will vote in the November 8th election! This one, in particular, is far too important to sit out.
And if none of this is convincing, perhaps Lewis Black, that master of subtlety, will convince you: