Sunday, December 9, 2007

Voting Is An Obligation Not A Right

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." - George Nathan

Americans have one of the poorest voter turnouts on the planet. Out of the 172 countries for which figures are available, The USA ranks a sad 139th - outranking only less developed nations such as Zambia where voters may have to walk 80 miles to pull the lever.
There are approximately 186 million eligible voters in the United States (citizens over the age of eighteen without a disqualification such as a felony conviction). Of that number, only 130 million - about seventy percent - are registered to vote. In the last Presidential election only 60 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls. That means that only about 30 percent actually voted for the current president. The percentage of the population that participates has been steadily dwindling.

"Half of the American people never read a newspaper.
Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half." - Gore Vidal
Presidential elections draw more voters than other types of elections. Yet in the last presidential election 75 million people who were eligible to vote did not do so. I believe this is a national disgrace. If one wishes for good government one must be a good citizen first. It is our duty as citizens to vote. A government that does not have the sanction of it's people has no legitimacy.
Refraining from voting insures a spurious government and encourages corruption.

You don't need a degree in political theory to understand that the relationship between citizens and government (in particular in a democracy) is a social contract. The government agrees to govern well. Citizens consent to their government holding the necessary casual agents and funds to conduct the business of their collective interests. Citizens take on certain obligations - including the obligation to vote.!

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." - John Quincy Adams

Why are citizens obliged to vote? Because government, as Thomas Jefferson set forth in the Declaration of Independence, derives its authority from the consent of the governed.
That consent must constantly be renewed - through voting. If the citizens don't vote, the government loses its legitimacy to exist.

If American women would increase their voting turnout by ten percent,
I think we would see an end to all of the budget cuts
in programs benefiting women and children. -Coretta Scott King

It 's about time we voted for more candidates with breasts! We've been voting for boobs long enough. True enough! The political arena should more closely resemble the population than it does. Much of the reason it does not is in the hands of the non-voter. 85 million non voters are using the roads, sending their kids to schools, and enjoying the protection of firemen, policemen, and the armed forces, etc. Not voting is a serious problem. It is not only a failure of citizens, it is also a failure of government.

In the 2004 election primary CNN interviewed a Democratic primary voter after casting his ballot. He claimed he voted for John Kerry because the media said he was the most electable of the candidates. The media said? In 2000 a woman was interviewed after voting in the Republican primary in South Carolina. She voted for Bush because "McCain had an illegitimate black baby and his wife is insane". (Apparently she had received one of those phone calls pretending to be pollsters that the Bush camp "knew nothing about" in which they made these claims about McCain's adopted child from India and his wife's having visited a therapist).

Only about 20 percent vote in primary elections. Do you really believe that 20 percent of the voters should decide who the candidates will be? I doubt it. Special interest groups, lobbyists, the corporatist elite, and party hacks all are counting on you not to vote. Give them a run for their money. Show up and vote in the primary! Always vote your conscience. Who do you honestly feel has the abilities to perform well as your representative? Because that is all these folks are. They have no special powers beyond what you grant them. Their function is to SERVE you. Public service is not a playground for political class elitism. Unless you don't vote.

Why Are Voters Vanishing?

If you ask non-voters why they don't vote, you hear lame excuses - generally wretched refrains including that the ballots and issues are too complex and confusing, that it's not convenient, that the person didn't register in time, or that the person didn't like any of the candidates. Some are driven away by negative campaign ads, which of course is what the advertisers want, I mean you can't vote for a child molesting puppy killer who pretended to be in the army while getting a sex change in a communist country can you? But perhaps the worst and most common reason is selfishness. What's in it for me? What do I get for voting? The simple reason most people do not vote is that they do not perceive it as being in their self-interest. If there is nothing in it for them, why the hell bother? Most of these voters likely have never considered the need to perpetuate - and, in fact, couldn't care less about, the social contract and their responsibility as citizens.

How Can We Get More Citizens to Vote?

I think having a column that says none of the candidates are acceptable would be a start. If "NONE" got a majority of votes, a new election would be called for. This should be incentive for those who dislike all the candidates to vote. If that didn't work, (and it wouldn't for the selfish non voter who may be the majority) maybe we should look at Australia. Down under they enacted a law requiring citizens to vote in 1924. The fine for not voting is similar to jay walking but Australia enjoys a near 100% turnout. Being required to vote may sound strange to some but as citizens we are required to serve on juries, which is far more invasive and can last months. We are required to pay taxes. Why not require voting? Thirty-three countries - all democracies - have mandatory voting laws and generally they seem to work very well.

I suggest that voting is the least a citizen can do for his or her country, it is not unreasonable to ask U.S. citizens to do this minimal thing. the US should be competing for first place in the world in voter participation - not competing with Zambia for last place.

"I'm totally down with insurrection in the street.
I've had a great time with that over the years.
Insurrection in the voting booth is the other part of the equation"
. -Jello Biafra

Sadly, if citizen participation in our democracy cannot be obtained voluntarily then mandatory laws are our best option. Fortunately, once enacted, we will probably need to do little or nothing to enforce them. The message they send may be enough, or almost enough to convince voters to show up at the polls. It may be time to do what Australia was wise enough to do eighty three years ago, in 1924.

Don't Shirk Your Civic Duty.... Vote!


Paul said...

You are neglecting some extremely relevant facts, although the facts you present are quite important as well.

For Congressional elections, most research I've seen suggests that about 85% of elections are settled by redistricting. Doesn't this make it considerably less of an "obligation" for me to vote when the odds are very slim that my vote will matter?

For presidential elections, a very limited number of Americans' votes have any potential to matter because of the arcane electoral college system. What is my "obligation" to vote in a state where there's no statistically significant chance that my vote will matter?

More importantly, the fact that all the research on the electronic voting systems find them to be profoundly flawed, and intentionally and systematically so, combined with the fact that the election machine companies have no accountability to speak of AND clear loyalties toward the Republicans makes it seem even more absurd to say I have an "obligation" to participate in a system where there's really no reason to think my vote will be counted.

We each have an obligation to participate in our democracy, but for many years now very powerful factions have gone to great lengths to render voting meaningless. In addition, if those who do vote delude themselves into thinking they've discharged their "obligation," surely they'll be less likely to participate in more meaningful ways.

Our democracy has been intentionally broken and there are no serious efforts underway to repair it, rendering voting pointless at best in nearly all situations.

RFE said...

Paul, I can not disagree that the mechanics of voting are and have been being manipulated. Citizens can demand changes if they get involved,
I would like nothing better than to insure every vote counted and certainly there are well organized and financed forces that are working to the contrary. Gerrymandering has gone on for an awful long time, it became institutionalized by the "Contract ON America" crowd. The basic idea of our democracy is a good one. It is indeed in need of some serious maintenance after this last 30 years of attacks from forces of fascism wrapped in the flag. It can only be done if we the people demand it. These same forces of autocracy are counting on people who oppose them to give up. Use absentee ballots, they aren't as easy to discount. Let's start making some noise about the redistricting. The electoral college will likely be staunchly defended by states with small populations as it gives them undue power. One person=one vote I say.
Again if we demanded it in large numbers and made some noise we could effect change. I am not ready to throw in the towel and allow fascism to win, not yet.