November 6, 2018

Abstention is a valid choice.

In a comments thread earlier this morning, richlb said:
Anne [sic] - I've tried to search and find your post from a few elections ago where you make an argument about NOT voting. I can't seem to locate it. On this election day, any chance to rerun it, or reference it?
In the comments, Meade located a post of mine from June 2012, "We're sending this mailing to you and your neighbors to publicize who does and does not vote":
This is an effort to shame and pressure people about voting, and it is truly despicable. Your vote is private, you have a right not to vote, and anyone who tries to shame and harass you about it is violating your privacy, and the assumption that I will become active in shaming and pressuring my neighbors is repugnant.

Not voting is a valid choice. If you don't have a preference in the election, don't vote. If you think no one deserves your vote, don't vote.
But this is a topic I've come back to. In April 2016, seeing President Obama appear on the "American Idol" finale, I wrote:
[Obama's] congratulations to the show morphed into a lecture on voting:
"Voting is the most fundamental and sacred right of our democracy. I believe it should be almost as easy as voting on 'American Idol,' and we're working on that. But when we choose not to vote we surrender that right."
Eh. What bilge. Voting is the most sacred right? Voting in elections should be like voting on "American Idol," where you call and text in multiple votes? And you surrender your right if you don't use it? No, you don't. Just as you have a right not to speak (as part of freedom of speech) and a right not to have a religion (as part of freedom of religion), the right to vote includes the right to abstain.
And abstaining when you have no preference in an election makes as much sense as keeping silent when you've got nothing to say and not bothering to act like you have a religion when you don't sincerely believe.

Obama ended by wagging a finger at us and telling us to go to vote.gov and register.

Now, the thing about voting is, I think, Americans don't like to be told what to do. We didn't like being told we were going to vote for Jeb Bush, and we've been putting up an agonizingly long, slow resistance to getting Hillary jammed down our throat....

The judges hurt [the woman who lost in that "American Idol" finale] by leaning on us to vote their idea of what is correct. We rebel. Don't tell us what to do.
In March 2015:
I don't even agree with [Peggy] Noonan that "We should urge everyone to care enough to stand in that line." Not voting expresses the lack of an opinion on whether one of the candidates on the ballot should be elected. There's nothing wrong with refraining from the work of figuring out whether you have a preference. There's nothing wrong with rejecting the belief that the ritual of voting is worthy in itself, regardless of whether you care. And you're entitled not to care. You could even have a deeply held belief — perhaps religious or philosophical — that you should not devote your mental energies to political matters. Some judges refrain from voting because they want to keep their minds apart from politics. Some nonvoters may believe — even correctly — that the result preferred by other people really is the best. Certainly, there are many decisions that we leave to others whom we regard as more expert and informed.

Those who abstain may look on from a distance and observe that things are going well enough with the choices their fellow citizens are making (or that no one is on the ballot who could improve anything significantly). The abstainers stand in reserve, and they can activate themselves if they are sufficiently motivated. Stop stereotyping these people as somehow wrong or — ugh! — uncaring. Think about why people abstain and show some respect instead of coming up with the despicable plan to force them to vote. Not voting means something, something you might not understand, and people are allowed to embrace that meaning.
In October 2014:
"People, young or old, who don't know the issues, budget battles, or the current state of regulations and policy should NOT vote. Ever. I don't care what Rock the Vote or anyone else says. It's not your 'civic duty' to be a dipshit voter. Stay home if you don't know what the hell you're voting for."

I'd put it a nicer way. Abstaining from voting is a kind of vote. You are registering the opinion that the question asked is not sufficiently interesting to you to have a preference, but you stand in reserve, as one of the votes that will be activated if and when the difference between the 2 candidates does make a difference to you. It's notable that the nonvoters are generally presumed to represent votes that would be cast for the Democratic Party's candidate, but that presumption shows how the abstention means something. The nonvoter doesn't want to give affirmation to the Democratic Party's candidate. The nonvoter is saying I don't like any of you people. Or maybe he's saying something else. Who knows? But it's not as though we know exactly what the voter is saying when he votes for one candidate or another. It might be I love X. It might be X is slightly less bad than Y. I say all the votes — cast and uncast — count and have meaning.
In July 2014:
WaPo's Dan Balz bawls about low turnout in "Everyone says turnout is key. So why does it keep going down?"

Boring!

I don't mean Balz is boring, though, of course, he is.

I mean hooray for boredom in politics.

It's healthy. These people who are incessantly trying to excite us about politics should feel horribly frustrated by our boredom. Our nonresponsiveness to their proddings and ticklings is the best thing we've got. No amount of money spent on advertising can move us. We've seen it all, and we've got lives to live.

Some people don't arrive at enough of an opinion to want to add their tiny bit of weight to one side as their fellow citizens determine which candidate wins. Their nonparticipation has meaning that deserves respect. There are innumerable reasons for nonparticipation, and one should not presume that the abstainers are lazy or numb. They may defer to the opinions of others. They may dislike all the candidates. They may think the candidates are similar enough that it's not worth putting time into teasing out the differences. They may have other things to do with that time. Better things....

... I do vote, but I'm not voting because someone has excited me, and I don't think I ever have, now that I think of it. And I don't want other people to get excited. If that means they don't even vote, I respect that. Thanks for not getting excited and impulse voting. Politics should be boring. I want the government to be boring.

61 comments:

YoungHegelian said...

Not voting is a valid choice. If you don't have a preference in the election, don't vote. If you think no one deserves your vote, don't vote.

I was going to start an anarcho-syndicalist commune today, but it's raining too hard, so I went & voted instead.

Jack Wayne said...

OTOH, I believe that voting is better than not voting.

gilbar said...

Voting is SO Important, that in places like Jim Wells County, Texas, and Baghdad Iraq; well over 99% percent of registered voters vote.
The more people actually vote, the less obvious the vote fraud is; so, there's that

Jim at said...

If you choose not do decide, you still have made a choice. - Neil Peart

ALP said...

You GO GIRL! I have often said that freedom, to me, is having the choice to involve yourself with the state/government at the bare, legal minimum (like paying taxes) or to engage more deeply.

Leland said...

One thing the Kavanaugh hearing did for both sides is energize the electorate. That, more than the assault on Kavanaugh's character or use of Dr.Ford as a pawn, upset me more. Many decent people don't let politics control their personal lives. They don't vote because in their world view, politicians don't have much impact on their life.

What the Kavanaugh show trial did was convince political agnostics to care about DC. That sucks. It sucks like taking politics at Thanksgiving dinner.

jimbino said...

Since there is no god, there is nothing that is sacred or holy, whether it's fake blood, marriage, a cross, a cemetery or your vote.

tim maguire said...

If you haven't researched the issues and the candidates, then you can't know which candidates are competent and support your issues. In which case, you cannot cast an informed, responsible vote. Voting under these circumstances is akin to throwing a dart at the ballot. You do yourself no favors and undermine the voters who did do their homework. If you are not informed, then you have a duty to yourself and to others to stay home on election day.

No, former(!) President Obama, voting should not be as easy as voting on American Idol. It should require some minimal effort to weed out those who really don't give a crap.

Original Mike said...

After watching the Kavanaugh travesty, I’d probably vote for ‘due process’ as our “most fundamental and sacred right”.

rhhardin said...

If you disagree with someone and you both vote, it's 1-1. If you disagree with someone and you persuade him and he changes his vote and you don't vote, it's 1-0 your way.

Persuading is more powerful than voting.

And online you can persuade hundreds, making it 100's-0 your way.

If everybody thought that way, it wouldn't work; but then it would be worth voting.

Larry J said...

gilbar said...

Voting is SO Important, that in places like Jim Wells County, Texas, and Baghdad Iraq; well over 99% percent of registered voters vote.
The more people actually vote, the less obvious the vote fraud is; so, there's that


That's nothing. In some places, more than 100% of the people vote in their elections.

stevew said...

Not voting is a valid choice. When 100 million people vote your vote doesn't really matter and so a good argument can be made that not voting, or at least not going out of your way to do so, is the rational choice. Other than how the act of voting makes you feel.

Big Mike said...

I just got back from voting. Lines were longish, and turnout was, IMHO, higher than in 2016. Plus it was drizzling, which should have impeded turnout.

rhhardin said...

Stockholders vote for directors, and directors control the corporation.

Stockholders do not have a duty to vote, just a right.

The way it works is that another company wants to buy out your corporation; they send you mail offering you (it used to be) double the price for your stock; your corporation mails out letters saying under no circumstances sell your shares to these guys, your corporation is worth more than they're offering. Everybody sells their shares, the other company votes the shares for their slate of directors, the new directors toss out the old management and it's done.

The right to vote is what pays off, and what you sell when you sell your shares to the bad guy.

Achilles said...

Larry J said...

That's nothing. In some places, more than 100% of the people vote in their elections.

California had 11 counties report more votes than legal voters.

rhhardin said...

Against abstaining, school boards regularly put bond issues on the ballot that keep failing but turning up again in every special election, until the remaining voters are worn out and it wins on a low turnout of interested people.

bagoh20 said...

The American Idol comparison does make sense if you are a Democrat. They mostly vote on style and emotion as you would for the TV show. If we were voting for an elected official plumber, the Dem candidate would probably not know which end of the wrench to hold, but would have hours of rhetoric on what sign to hang on the bathroom door and could play a passable saxophone.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The right to vote might be "sacred," though I think that term should be reserved for more religious things. But your actual vote isn't sacred, and thinking of it as if it were is going to lead you to some crazy ideas. A vote is a tool.

I suspect people who want more people to vote are the same as those whose candidates depend on fashion. Hence, Obama wanting it to be as easy as on American Idol. He's the sort of guy who benefited from the aura of who the cool kids are all getting behind, without looking to see if he's ever done anything. So also the people he's encouraging now. I think we'd do better with fewer people voting, myself. If it takes a little research to know where the polling place is and how much time it's going to take, so much the better. The procedure needn't be so difficult that mothers with young children or people who can't walk so well can't accomplish it.

bagoh20 said...

If you do not have a right to abstain from something then you do not have a right at all.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Hey Barry wasn't lying, he wouldn't do that!

tcrosse said...

But but but this is like, totally, the most important election in the history of, like, the galaxy.

Hagar said...

If you favor my position on issues and candidates, you should absolutely get out and vote, but if otherwise, I would rather that you stayed home.

Limited blogger said...

You should be registered to vote, if eligible.

You should show up to polls and sign in, if able.

But you can then leave the ballot blank, if you want to.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Eleven counties in CA have more registered voters than they have legal voting age adults. San Diego has 125%. 25% more.

rhhardin said...

Australians who don't vote are fined.

bagoh20 said...

I feel the same about voting rights as I do about the Second Amendment. Sure it's your right, but you should abstain if you don't know what you are doing.

One of the most disappointing things I see with politics is those videos of college students who can't discern the policies of the person they are voting for from the alternative one they hate. They know virtually nothing about civics at all. It seems to me that the less informed young people mostly lean heavily left. The campus conservatives usually have the facts down pretty well. They can even name the current Vice President, number of senators, and few items on the Bill of Rights.

buster said...

I'm up to date on the issues and the candidates. The Democrat in my district is arguably better than the Republican, and it's a close question in Senate race. Nevertheless, I voted straight Republican. It's more important to keep the Democrats from power than to worry about the candidates' relative merits.

Nonapod said...

To be truthful I'd rather people simpy not vote if they're uncertain and they're just doing it out of some misplaced sense of civic duty. Ideally everyone should be willing to inform themselves, come to a decision, and then vote. But we don't live in an ideal world.

Ken B said...

I already have a post up on this. https://kenblogic.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-scarlet-letter.html

stevew said...

"But but but this is like, totally, the most important election in the history of, like, the galaxy."

Truth: last night on Brett Baier's Fox show one of his on-site reporters (from the White House, of course) said, "This is the most consequential election of our lifetime.".

Hahahahaha. FFS, grow up already.

stevew said...

@Nonapod: that's my reasoning for opposing absentee ballots and early voting. Voting ought to be difficult and require commitment, if nothing else to winnow out the folks that simply don't know what they're voting on or for.

gahrie said...

Low voter turn out is an indication that things are relatively healthy in your country. The fewer in or ill informed people who vote, the better.

Voting should be somewhat difficult. People would appreciate and respect it more.

No early voting

Restrict absentee voting to the military and those in hospital.

Paper, bubble in ballots

Voting registration that expires and has to be renewed (after eight years? Ten years?)

state issued voter id to vote

Balfegor said...

Re: tim maguire:

If you haven't researched the issues and the candidates, then you can't know which candidates are competent and support your issues. In which case, you cannot cast an informed, responsible vote.

Yeah, once it gets down to the school board and county . . . whatever the name of the governing board of the county is, I just leave the ballot blank. I have no idea who these people are. I don't even know how executive power is exercised in the country I live in. My vote would be nothing more than noise.

Balfegor said...

"COUNTY" I live in. I know how executive power is exercised in the country I live in. Haha.

Unknown said...

Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy.

buster said...

I agree that the right to vote includes the right not to vote. I also agree that the right to vote that we have is different from the one we would have if voting were mandatory. Still, the question whether there is a moral or political (as opposed to legal) duty to vote is an important one. It's not clear to me that a society in which there is a strong social pressure to take an interest in voting and to actually vote is less free or less desirable than the society we have.

Jeff said...

Don't vote. It only encourages the bastards.

Scott M said...

I was going to start an anarcho-syndicalist commune today, but it's raining too hard, so I went & voted instead.

How much of a majority would you need to decide purely internal affairs?

Leland said...

Don't vote. It only encourages the bastards.

Lots of truth in that statement.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Abstention is a valid choice.

My wife reached that conclusion years ago. Unfortunately, this had nothing to do with voting.

Cath said...

In France they have the option for a "vote blanc" which means actively casting a ballot for "none of the above" - ie you care enough to vote but don't want any of the candidates on offer. I wonder how many US voters would take that option if we had it.

cubanbob said...

Voting should be limited to net taxpayers and none of the above should be a ballot option.

Murph said...

"This is the most consequential election of our lifetime."

Well, sure, anyone can make fun of that statement, and it's very tempting to make fun of hyperbole, wherever found.

However, I am now into my 7th decade of life, and other than the election of Reagan and the subsequent & dependent breakup of the Soviet Union, I'm open to persuasion that, yes, retaining a Republican majority in the Senate that will foreseeably consent to a third [or more] conservative nominee to the SCt -- to set up several decades' worth of a conservative-leaning majority that [hopefully] will decline to rule on issues that are better dealt with via legislative means -- is up there in the set of the most consequential elections of my lifetime.

...the rest of it? Meh. They're all politicians, whatever banner they parade under. They, like the scorpion, will do what all politicians do: it's their nature.

J2 said...

I live in Massachusetts. I don't vote.

MadisonMan said...

This is the most consequential election of our lifetime

To be repeated ad nauseum until voters get it right and elect a bunch of Democrats. Then it's Nobel Peace Prizes for everyone!

I am so ready to not have importuning to vote be the only thing I see on Social Media.

richlb said...

Yes, I know your name doesn't have the "E" at the end. I noticed it after I published my comment. Had I been able to edit, I would, but I didn't feel I needed to delete the whole comment on that one (admittedly important to you) error.

Anthony said...

When I lived in Seattle I didn't bother voting much of the time since it's a one-party state (or at least region). Why would I waste time voting for some guy/gal who wasn't going to come close to winning?

I did vote for a R for governor once (Dino Rossi) and he actually won; but then came the "recount" and enough D votes were "found" so that he lost so I figured Why Bother Anymore?

Marcus said...

After the election is over, I await the invariable comment of "if you didn't vote, you don't have a right to complain." Listen, dipsticks, my Freedom of Speech is not predicated upon whether I voted or not.

THEOLDMAN

iowan2 said...

The tone of the 'get out the vote' verbiage, is different between the Dems and Republicans. The Dems are much more strident. My take away is the Dems want the uninformed voter, a voter they can sway with emotional appeals. Republicans win on ideas, Dems on emotions.

funsize said...

Absentee voting is superior and should be widespread in every state. It is less hackable than polling machines. It is more friendly to working people. You can take more time filling it out. And no election-day shenanigans at the polling places (or pre-election day weather events, disruptions/protests, etc) can prevent anyone from voting.

It isn't perfect, but its far superior to having to show up in person.

Kevin said...

Tammy Metzler: [her campaign speech] Who cares about this stupid election? We all know it doesn't matter who gets elected president of Carver. Do you really think it's going to change anything around here? Make one single person smarter or happier or nicer? The only person it does matter to is the one who gets elected. The same pathetic charade happens every year, and everyone makes the same pathetic promises just so they can put it on their transcripts to get into college. So vote for me, because I don't even want to go to college, and I don't care, and as president I won't do anything. The only promise I will make is that if elected I will immediately dismantle the student government, so that none of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again!

[the student body erupts in huge cheers. They start chanting "Tammy! Tammy!"]

Tammy Metzler: Or don't vote for me! Who cares? Don't vote at all!

[they all rise to give her a standing ovation]

funsize said...

Anthony: I called her Christine Fraudoire after that election. It was very dispiriting. I believe that was my first time voting.

FIDO said...

If you are too lazy or uninvolved to get an ID to vote, or can't go to the registrar to register to vote, IMO, you don't deserve to vote.

Every single measure Democrats support makes voting more prone to fraud and less transparent.

This should tell you something.

R.J. Chatt said...

California, true blue, figured out how to deal with the voting/not voting dilemma. The top two winners from the primaries go on to the general election. Then the voters get to choose between one progressive Democrat and another progressive Democrat -- easy peasy. Even if nobody votes a Democrat wins.

Paul said...

Yes you have the right to abstain from voting... but whomever is voted in... YOU OWN IT.

They are your Representatives, Senators, President, Mayors, etc.

And if you don't like it.. tough nuts.

Milwaukie guy said...

If you abstain you still have a right to complain. However, going nuclear shouldn't be your option. Accept those that won as the winners and vote in the next election to turf the bastards out. Otherwise, then no whining.

Douglas said...

In 2016, I voted for all offices except for president. I abstained from the presidential race - the first time I haven't voted for a president since I started voting in 1972. In 2018, I voted straight GOP (in Maine, where it might make a difference).

Kay said...

A+ post. HUGE mood for me.

Estoy_Listo said...

Way too much emphasis is put on voting,IMO. The notion that if you don't vote, you shouldn't complain (or in some way OWN it) is absurd.

Mary said...

Hey Ann, I’ve been meaning to follow up on this post. I’m really surprised at your apathy about voting. To just say it’s boring and should only be left to people that are engaged doesn’t make sense. We have to do boring stuff all the time! If we want a college degree we have to take some required classes that are boring! Sometimes our jobs are boring with tedious tasks. If people don’t understand the positions of various politicians, then maybe they should learn what those positions mean. I’m just surprised to hear you say these things because you were a professor for so long. I get what you are saying about choosing not to vote, and leave it up to everyone else. But dropping out of college because of one boring class would be pretty lame, and why not encourage people to listen and learn and develop critical thinking skills, and act on them. Is that really so much to ask? And if it is, we are in big trouble as a country.

Ann Althouse said...

"I’m really surprised at your apathy about voting. To just say it’s boring and should only be left to people that are engaged doesn’t make sense."

But that isn't what I said! Read the post again. I said "I'm for Boring." I want politics to be boring and I vote and like to vote for someone who is boring. As for not voting, I gave a lot of reasons why it might be entirely legitimate to abstain. Abstention makes sense for many people and they should not be insulted.