I Vote to Abstain

Published: 10/19/2010 10:00 a.m.

Let me begin with this first: I not sure if I will vote in any future government election. I think many of you shouldn’t vote either.

Why Vote?

Below are three common objections that non-voters (and economists) give for not wanting to vote.

  1. Voting costs time, which is a valuable resource. Voting does not provide any valuable resource in return.

  2. It is exceedingly rare that a vote will matter, i.e. an election is decided by a single vote. Therefore, your vote doesn’t really count.

  3. I don’t really know anything about the lives, politics, or decision-making skills of the candidates. Or, I don’t think any candidate in a particular election is well qualified, so abstaining is best.

Let’s dive in deeper to each on of these reasons.

1. Voting costs me too much

Ignoring the financial costs of performing an election, the cost for me to vote can range from minutes to weeks. The time to drive to a polling station and cast a vote is minimal if there are not lines. That is the least time. To be an educated voter, one must do research, listen to debates, read about the candidates, and to a greater extent explore their own goals and values for how government should run. To claim that voting is a simple action of punching a ticket is far too great a reduction on the true cost of voting. However you spend your time in preparing for an election and in casting your vote, you are spending time.

But, this is time that could be spent doing something (anything) else. While some people do not see the value in voting (I count myself in that group), there are several people who gain satisfaction in participating, in performing a civic duty, and in being part of the process for selecting our leaders. You could even consider it entertainment or recreation, similar to reading a novel. Any of these categorizations of the time spent voting is up to you, and I really can’t argue with any of them. I don’t see the value, but I can see how someone else might.

2. My Vote Doesn’t Count

Below are some stats from a 2005 NY Times Article titled Why Vote.

  • In 40,000 state legislature elections, only 7 were decided by a single vote, 2 others tied (1 in 4,400)

  • The last Congressional election to be decided by a single vote was 100 years ago (Buffalo, 1910). There have been 16,000+ elections in that time.(1 in 16,000)

I hope you trust this is satisfactory evidence that most statewide or higher elections are rarely decided by a single vote. This means that if I don’t vote, then the election will rarely be affected. How rare? Being generous, we could estimate the chances at 1 in 6,000. To put this in perspective, this is the same as the odds of dying in an Air & Space Transport accident.

This is not to say that every vote doesn’t count, but only to show that your vote rarely has an impact on the outcome of the election (I touched on this back in 2006). While this math and logic makes complete sense to me, this isn’t really the reason that I don’t vote.

Slippery Slope of Abstaining

Yes, it’s true. If I think a rational person shouldn’t vote, and everyone acted rationally, then no one would vote. But people don’t act rationally. And, people will always vote. An election where no one voted is exceedingly more rare than one decided by a single vote. I don’t have a link because I can’t find an example. While that doesn’t prove it’s never happened, it sure doesn’t happen very often. All this to say, people will always vote, and my actions or logic have about as much influence over that as the power of my vote in an election. Very little to none.

3. The Uneducated Voter

Politics is complicated. In the upcoming Statewide election, this sample Harris County ballot has 314 names in 165 elections (# candidates per election ranges from 1-8) and 10 propositions. I recognize the following names:

  • John Culberson

  • Rick Perry

  • Bill White

  • David Dewhurst

  • Dan Patrick (probably not the one I know)

I am admittedly a very uneducated voter. This is why I won’t be voting. While I am not proud of my lack of political knowledge, I am proud that I know I am lacking in knowledge. Though I don’t have any evidence, I would guess that many voters are also uneducated. I would also guess that many are mis-educated; they believe something about a candidate, platform, or party that is wrong. I have a strong disdain for these voters. I think they are careless and can be dangerous. I am totally fucking serious, so please do not skip over this point. I think uneducated voters are careless and can be dangerous.

Because I am self-acknowledged uneducated voter, I feel it is my civic duty to either educate myself and vote, or to abstain from voting. I have chosen the latter. Think of it as me jumping on the grenade that is my ignorance of politics. While I wish I could be more educated, I am very proud to not be voting. I would also be proud of other uneducated voters who chose not to vote.

I respect our government and our right to vote, and I don’t take that power lightly. To casually check boxes at random or without thought is abusive and “Bad for America”. I don’t want to be a part of a group of individuals who are making a decision they do not understand. I wish more citizens who lack either an interest in politics or knowledge about the candidates would also abstain from voting.

I use the word ‘abstain’ because it best addresses the will necessary to actively not do something that you are capable of doing and may wish to do. It’s not that I choose not to vote, or that I forget to vote. I am abstaining, and I hope other uneducated voters will abstain as well.

Better Voter Education

This is what we really need. Less smear campaigns with pulled quotes and outdated facts. More tools to allow voters to discover what they care about, and then choose candidates based on that. Too many people get their news from one-sided sources which are far more likely to mis-educate than to educate. Let me illustrate this with a made up example.

FACT: Candidate A hates puppies and wants them to die.

TRUTH: Candidate A passed on a 50,000 was allocated to animal shelters to extend the life of the animals they keep.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s not that much of an elaboration. The tactics of campaign strategists involve telling the story their way, which directly influences the voters opinion. This is literally their goal. This isn’t a good way to give information. Unfortunately, that’s what happens.

If I could fill out a questionnaire about what I need from my government and then have my votes placed accordingly, I might sign up for something like that. But, this will never happen. Voter education is a necessity in choosing the best leaders to govern our society. Having accurate information is even more important, as much of the mis-information spread around causes bickering and fools people.

Final Thoughts

I would love to be a well-educated voter with a passion for people that I want to make decisions for my future. The current truth is that politics (even at a local level) are far too complex for me to understand to be able to make a good decision about who I support in an election. The best case is to dumb things down (Candidate A is tough on crime, Candidate B wants lower taxes, etc.), but this isn’t good enough for me. Imagine ordering dinner, but instead of picking something from a typical menu, your choices were:

  • Meal A is 40% red in color

  • Meal B won an award two years ago

Would you eat there? I wouldn’t. How would you choose? This is how I think our political candidates are portrayed. At least the ones whose name you recognize. The majority are people you’ve never heard of. Then your meals are just:

  • Meal A

  • Meal B

I don’t know much about political candidates, and because of that lack of political knowledge, I proudly vote to abstain.