08.01.2012 0

In praise of the non-voter

By David Bozeman — I have a friend.  I’ll call him George.  In all his 51 years he has never voted.  He has never even registered and claims no party affiliation.  When pressed on the matter, he replies that all politicians say what they have to to get elected and then they do whatever they want once in office.

Hard to argue with that conclusion.  Still, elections do matter, and even if candidates vary only by degrees, any navigator can attest that the difference of just a few degrees can alter a course dramatically.  And with the power of the vote, ordinary citizens can always hope that they can force their leaders to do right, if only out of political expediency.

But George and others like him couldn’t care less.  Not that he is ill-informed or totally indifferent, he just chooses not to participate in what he considers a cynical process.  He looks only within his own realm to better his circumstances, and his world consists of friends, beer, R&B music and reality TV.

One of our founders remarked that he was engaged in revolution so that his descendants could pursue art and culture.  George and others are broad and crude variations on that theme.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not the apathy of non-voters that precipitates a nation’s downfall, it is a dearth of uninspiring leadership and herd-like thinking.  We have all been told that if you don’t vote then you have no right to complain.  But what if I don’t consent to being governed by either Barack Obama OR Mitt Romney?

Another favorite is:  it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you vote.  WHY doesn’t it matter?  A trained monkey can pull a lever or draw an X.  In truth, it is not participation that the ruling classes want, it is our consent.  George Will wryly dismissed voting by observing that it only encourages them (by ‘them’ he meant the smarmy, opportunistic politicians).

America was never meant to be governed by simple numerical majorities.  Our founders envisioned deliberative majorities of informed citizens deciding their votes based on the interests of the nation as a whole.  Nothing here is meant to suggest that certain citizens should be denied their voting rights, but neither should anyone feel coerced into voting if they are unprepared or unmotivated to make a reasoned decision.

Insisting on universal participation, statists and their get-out-the-vote foot soldiers either are proposing or have enacted:  Sunday voting, Internet voting, same-day registration, motor-voter registration, incentives such as lottery tickets (proposed in Arizona in 2008), etc.  Columnist Jonah Goldberg brilliantly summed up such measures by observing that making voting easier is synonymous with making it cheaper.

Voting should require just a little effort, thus making us value it more.  It should entail thought and deliberation.  Clearly, one party (guess) is banking its future on securing the votes of felons, couch potatoes, those who obtain their news from MTV, and other Americans who can’t name a single Supreme Court justice.  Members of the aforementioned groups who stay home actually do their country a greater service than those who  pull a lever every November, either blindly or out of narrow self-interest.

As for George, his absence from civic life was not consciously decided, and while apathy is not conducive to maintaining a free society (eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, according to Jefferson), it is still refreshing to know a contented soul oblivious to the cynical machinations of political life.  My own bookcase is lined with America-in-decline volumes and George just smiles and rolls his eyes.  He is not super book-smart, but he is everyday wise.  Honestly, Election Day would benefit from his participation, but either way, his common sense and touch of childlike detachment are more precious American ideals than universal consent to big government.

David Bozeman, former Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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