Thebastidge: The Right to Abstain
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    Friday, October 29, 2004

    The Right to Abstain

    In response to my last post, as modified to be appropriate in that forum, a classmate of mine said:
    Just want to make you aware that we also have the right NOT to vote. We should be able to NOT vote without being looked down on or talked down to.

    Wow. I almost completely disagree with this statement, for so many reasons. Let's take the last point first:

    If one performs an action, or fails to perform an action, you are, undoubtedly, unequivocally, and quite fairly, open to criticism. You have no right to be free of criticism. You have a right to criticize, and so do I. But nowhere in our philosophy of law, the consitution, or our society, does one have the right to be free from criticism (otherwise known as consitutionally protected free speech). If one does not vote, you are foolish, probably ignorant, and likely lazy. (There, I just exercised my right, see?)

    Now the first part: Of course we are not compelled to vote in this country by force of law. Note that this is not the case everywhere. Most of our laws prohibit things, rather than compelling things. Not all, but most of the just ones. Those laws that are in philosophical congruence with our basic law, the Constitution, do anyway.

    Now, I'm NOT saying the following is the case with my classmate, as I believe that individuals and orgnizations usually have different motivations, but if I were to hear her statement from an organization (and it's possibl she got that opinion from hearing a case made by some organization) then I would suspect that the organization in question had an agenda of attempting to disenfranchise some demographic that they did not agree with. My ultra-right-wing friend John, for example, encourages people he disagrees with not to vote, saying, "it doesn't really matter." As he is right-wing, and a common idea on the left is that the world is controlled by vast, shoadowy forces beyond our control, he's probably successful with this strategy, at least a little bit.

    And on to the meat of my attempt to persuade people to vote, any way their conscience leads them:

    Why is it foolish not to vote?
    Because you've let the way the country around you works, be dictated by people around you, who by more or less random distribution may well disagree with the way you think. With increasing immigration in this country, there is less committment to the original ideals of liberty and individuality. Certain principle uipon which this country was founded and has run more or less successfully for 200+ years, require the participation of the individuals that consent to be governed. We KNOW that government needs to be watched vigilantly, as even good men with good intentions can make mistakies, particularly when they feel threatened as many in our country do now. We must make our will known to prevent the erosion of liberty to a culture of zealotry.

    Why is it ignorant to not vote?
    Because it shows a profound lack of understanding of the democratic process. I understand some cynicism, and you may well be outvoted many times in your life. But being in the losing position on a vote doesn't mean the process is flawed. Whether John Kerry or Bush is elected in a few days, you won't see me denying the facts. There will be no "He's not my president" from my lips. I will continue to make my opinions know, try to sway public opinion to my point of view, but I won't be throwing bricks and rioting because "the wrong guy was 'selected'".


    Is it ever a valid political statement to abstain?
    Of course, there may be situations where you don't wish to endorse either candidate. There are still other issues on the ballot that you should consider. I did not vote for superintendant of schools, because it's not a partisan race, I was not familiar enough to make an informed choice with that particular local election, and when I did the research, I couldn't find enough information to be compelling one way or the other. I voted for or against every other measure and candidate. Many people only vote for those that they consider 'important'. Well, I think they're all important, and elections come around rarely enough to be worth putting the extra few minutes in to vote for them.

    The only really good reason to abstain, however, doesn't obtain in this country very often. It's when you refuse to give moral authority to a rigged election by participating. In this case, we should not only be refusing to vote, we should be screaming as loudly as we can...

    1 Comments:

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