By Sophia Franco
Managing Editor of Features
I swear I’m pro-voting. Having been raised by a lawyer specializing in maintaining and improving voting rights, I can attest to the many benefits of voting. But I also can’t seem to ignore the compelling statistics and arguments that voting is a waste of time and energy. So I’ve decided to explore the question of whether or not you should vote.
Of course, there are plenty of logistical reasons people don’t vote, but I want to focus on the theoretical arguments against voting altogether. Specifically, the theoretical argument against voting for elected officials. Some common reasons not to vote include:
“The electoral college defeats the purpose of voting.”
“I live in a state that always votes the opposite of my beliefs therefore my vote doesn’t matter.”
“Politicians never deliver on their promises.”
“I don’t approve of any of the candidates.”
“This democracy is hopelessly flawed and I can’t condone participating in a system that stands for inequality and corruption.”
And so on and so forth.
You may notice that the overarching theme of several of these questions rests on whether your vote actually matters. There are several statistical models that calculate what impact your vote has on the election based on where you live, but first it’s important to examine the argument. In our democracy, each citizen over the age of eighteen (with restrictions depending on the state and past imprisonment history) gets one vote.
It’s fair to point out that one vote out of millions isn’t much and has minuscule statistical sway. However, if your concern is whether your vote matters in the big picture, you casting your one statistically negligible ballot is still worth more than you not casting it. After all, a 0% statistical value is always going to be less than even the tiny chance of your vote swaying the election.
Furthermore, if we explore voting through the lense of Kantian ethics, it becomes clear that voting is the best course of action. Kantian ethics rely on the use of maxims, ground rules by which a person lives. German Philosopher Immanuel Kant insists that in order to determine whether the principles, or maxims, we live by are permissible or impermissible, we must apply them universally.
In his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant writes, “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” The big word for this principle of applying a maxim to everyone unconditionally is a categorical imperative. The key to this type of philosophy is consistency between ends and means.
In this case, the maxim we employ would be “I won’t vote,” the reasoning being, “my vote doesn’t matter.” If we applied this to everyone– that is, if everyone didn’t vote, then you wouldn’t be achieving the ends you desire, your vote mattering. If no one voted, not only would no one’s input matter, our democracy, which is dependent on the ability and the willingness of citizens to participate, would be effectively undermined. This maxim is unsustainable when applied universally, therefore it would be considered impermissible according to Kantian ethics.
We can also apply these principles historically. In the 2004 Bush vs Gore presidential election, 537 votes divided the two candidates in the key state of Florida. This margin is what (arguably) won Bush the election, sealing the fate of the nation for the next four years. If 538 Gore supporters in Florida who concluded that their votes didn’t matter had actually voted, Gore would’ve won, or the state would have at least had a recount.
Indeed, if we examine democratic principles further, it’s clear that larger electorates are more favorable. Democracies depend upon the will of the people, rather than the will of a few. Collective wisdom can always benefit from the input of those with varied experiences.
As for the electoral college, it is true that your vote could in fact be neglected for the view of an elector; however, such occurrences are rare and several states even outlaw such practices. Remember, a candidate’s party gets to put forth their slate of electors, meaning that electors have pressure coming from within their party to vote as expected.
In this election in particular, it’s clear that people are unhappy with their choices. Now there’s always the lesser of two evils idea, but in truth, I sympathize with those who don’t find this argument to be convincing. For the people who believe that there is absolutely no candidate that they can condone, there are several options.
First, I’ll remind that there are more than two parties in this election and that in spite of the strength of our two party system, there are merits to voting third party. One can even write in a candidate of their choosing who does not appear on the ballot. It’s true that third party candidates and write ins are unlikely to win, however, even if these candidates fail, an attempt to advance their cause is more consistent with the desire for your vote to matter than staying home.
Finally, I’d like to address the issue of objection to the democratic system as a whole. In our country, refusing to vote does not count as a “protest vote.” Not voting doesn’t send the message that you ardently believe in. If you really believe this system is corrupt, then you better be willing to work to change it. And the best way to effect change in this democracy is campaigning for elected officials that people then have to vote on. In the end, voting isn’t going anywhere, so as long as you have the option, you may as well use it to your advantage.
To quickly respond to the concern that politicians never follow through on their promises, all I can say is go do some actual research for a change.
There is, however, one reason other than religious obligation that I feel I can accept as to why a person might not vote. The reason comes from my Latin teacher, who reminds us that the only message we send by not voting is “every other member of the electorate is capable of making a more rational decision than I can.”
If you believe this statement is true, then don’t vote.
Of course, I’d hazard to guess that you think otherwise. However, if you do truly believe that you are less qualified than every single other person comprising this electorate, I would agree that you should not cast your ballot on November 8th.