Unvoting

2004-10-02

Recent readers of this weblog may get the impression that I have always been opposed to electoral politics. Not true. Although I didn't vote for the first few U.S. elections held after I became eligible to vote, something happened to me that changed my mind: while visiting Czechoslovakia in 1990 and again while teaching English there in 1991, I witnessed the first and second free elections held in that country since the Communist putsch in 1948. The outpouring of sentiment for the simple act of choosing one's representatives affected me profoundly. On Election Day in 1992 I voted for the first time (and also joined the Libertarian Party), and in 1996 I even started a run for U.S. House of Representatives from my district in New Jersey (an effort truncated by my move to Pennsylvania that year). By 1998 or so I had tired of active work in the political arena (mainly because of my disillusionment with the Libertarian Party, which is the party closest to my own views), and although I voted in the 2000 elections, it was with little enthusiasm. Since then I have come to the conclusion that it is more effective to work outside the political system than within it, so much so that I would now say I don't believe in government any longer. (Whether this makes me a kind of market anarchist, societal voluntarist, or progressive libertarian I'm not quite sure yet, since I tend to shy away from any label that ends with "-ist" these days -- but that's a topic for another blog entry.)

In any case, it seems to me now that voting is misguided, so I plan to not vote in this year's election. It's been interesting to hear people's reactions to my statement that I shall not vote -- you'd think I had stated my intent to throw a newborn baby into a trash dumpster. One recurring theme in people's objections is that my voice won't be heard. Naturally, I am making my voice heard -- that's one reason I keep a weblog (yes, I think that rights are meant to be exercised; I also think that this blog is a more effective means of exercising my right of free speech than voting for some monkey or another to fill a government job). But today I had a funny thought: what if I show up at my local polling place and deliberately state that I shall not be voting this year? Voting is the only time when one explicitly gives one's consent to the government, so what if I let the election monitors know that I won't be voting and won't be giving my consent?

It seems rather crazy, doesn't it? But what if all the people who are thought to be apathetic turned out to consciously and deliberately not vote? "Well, Dan, the polls are busier than usual this year, but half the people are not voting!" Wouldn't such behavior, en masse, help to expose the fact that our current system of government is illegitimate?

We could call this "unvoting". Unvoter groups could hand out "I Unvoted" buttons. Bumper stickers could proclaim "I'm X and I Unvote" (where "X" is your societal hobbyhorse of choice). Pundits and politicos would be aware that people across the country had actively and with full intent withdrawn their sanction from the system.

You may ask: To what end? Why unvote? Isn't it better to work through the system? I think not, because at this point the system is the problem. You may vote for Kerry and his ilk because you fear creeping fascism, or you may vote for Bush and his ilk because you fear creeping socialism. But personally, I fear them both -- and I know that no matter whom you vote for, governments at various levels will continue to throw innocent people in prison, regulate us to death, invade foreign nations, and commit countless other acts that directly contravene the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the founding principles of the American people. Electing a few token Libertarians, Greens, or whatever will not change things, and may even hurt because that will only further legitimize the system. But legitimizing the system is a mistake, because it is the system itself that is rotten.

As far as I can see, the only moral option remaining to me is to withdraw my sanction and consent, in as explicit a manner as I can. Only about 40% of eligible voters turn out to vote in American elections. What if that number were 30%, or 20%, or 10%? What if the number of unvoters were greater than the number of voters? What if twice as many people unvoted as voted? Wouldn't that expose the fact that this government (no matter which monkey is in charge) does not have the consent of the governed?

Voting is the soft underbelly of the current system. Those who govern need votes -- and lots of them -- in order to maintain a semblance of legitimacy. That's why members of the political class (as well as their hangers-on in the media and other centers of power) work so hard to convince you that voting is your civic duty -- and that's why they reserve special opprobrium for those don't vote. Their error lies in believing that only apathy can cause one to not vote. They cannot yet conceive that one could consciously and deliberately be an unvoter. But perhaps they are about to find out.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal