Choosing Not to Vote

Despite the best efforts of political operatives, the majority of the electorate fails to vote in the majority of elections at all levels of government. There are logistical hurdles that exacerbate this problem, such as the bewildering fact that election day isn’t a national holiday and that young adults aren’t taught how to vote or how to register to vote by their schools or parents. However, the main cause of the problem is about the attitudes of individuals themselves toward voting.

One individual who declines to exercise his right to vote is Quillette writer Coleman Hughes, who, in a blog post, made the case for why his individual vote doesn’t matter. He takes the principle to its logical extreme and argues that, even in races deemed “close,” elections are never decided by a single vote and, therefore, doesn’t see the value in his casting a ballot.

In fact, Hughes argues that his career as a political writer influences more people than his single vote ever could. This may be true, but he wrongly conflates the importance of his going to vote with the amount of influence that his individual vote carries. The reason for this will be elucidated soon.

Hughes does, however, acknowledge that voting is “collectively essential” even though “individually pointless,” which indicates that he does value the practice of voting as a collective enterprise. However, this reasoning is paradoxical -- it’s precisely because voting is collectively essential that it’s also individually essential, as the collective is made up of individuals rather than being an amorphous entity.

Hughes then extrapolates further as to why voting is individually pointless. He opposes the age-old argument that raises this hypothetical scenario: if everyone doesn’t vote, then we cease to live in a democracy. His problem with this argument is that the conditional clause is not only hypothetical but also false, as it would never happen in practice.

However, there are many other cases -- hypothetical and otherise -- that are true in that they’re practical scenarios that can and have happened. This is because individuals aren’t just cogs in the electoral machine -- individuals are parts of like-minded constituencies that, as communities, mutually benefit from their neighbors’ decision to vote by advancing common causes.

A recent case goes like this: when the black community in South Carolina turned out to vote in large numbers, then Biden won by a landslide, which caused other moderates to drop out, which made him in turn competitive in Super Tuesday against Sanders.

Technically, the argument can still be made that a single Black vote doesn’t matter in relation to the vote of the entire Black community. However, framing the case this way gives the decision to vote a greater purpose, as one may have a sense of duty and obligation to his/her community or political allies when casting a ballot.

Another, more hypothetical case is: If younger people turn out to vote as much as older people do, then Sanders will have a cakewalk to the nomination. As a young person, Hughes should grapple with this argument and contend with the idea that there’s more context to one’s individual vote than what meets the eye.

After establishing that individual votes don’t matter, Hughes goes on to speculate why people make the irrational decision to vote. He claims that people vote because of the fear of being shamed for not doing so. This is an odd speculation for two reasons: First, because it would be easier to simply lie about going to vote than actually going, and second because -- especially without any supporting data -- one should assume that people are showing up to vote primarily because they want to vote, even if, according to Hughes, that desire is irrational.

Hughes also claims that people who vote are engaging in the act of “moral grandstanding” and pretend the reasons why they vote are because of the policies they support, the effort to uphold democracy, or the effort to defeat Trump, so as to appear virtuous. Again, it’s puzzling as to why one would assert, without any supporting evidence, that these stated motives shouldn’t be taken at face value.

As mentioned earlier, Hughes’s arguments fail to address the significance that voting has in people’s lives as part of something greater than themselves. In fact, for many, this sense of obligation transcends their allegiance to their local community; they feel that, as Americans, they should strive to uphold the principle of self-government by voting in every election, whether for local representatives or for the Potus.

Many citizens feel that it’s simply their civic duty to vote, and it’s this sense of duty that’s largely missing from American culture today. Just as it’s honorable to donate to a cause that you value or to provide a helping hand to a struggling neighbor, it’s honorable to exercise your right to vote for those who strive to represent your values and the values of your community.

Despite the best efforts of political operatives, the majority of the electorate fails to vote in the majority of elections at all levels of government. There are logistical hurdles that exacerbate this problem, such as the bewildering fact that election day isn’t a national holiday and that young adults aren’t taught how to vote or how to register to vote by their schools or parents. However, the main cause of the problem is about the attitudes of individuals themselves toward voting.

One individual who declines to exercise his right to vote is Quillette writer Coleman Hughes, who, in a blog post, made the case for why his individual vote doesn’t matter. He takes the principle to its logical extreme and argues that, even in races deemed “close,” elections are never decided by a single vote and, therefore, doesn’t see the value in his casting a ballot.

In fact, Hughes argues that his career as a political writer influences more people than his single vote ever could. This may be true, but he wrongly conflates the importance of his going to vote with the amount of influence that his individual vote carries. The reason for this will be elucidated soon.

Hughes does, however, acknowledge that voting is “collectively essential” even though “individually pointless,” which indicates that he does value the practice of voting as a collective enterprise. However, this reasoning is paradoxical -- it’s precisely because voting is collectively essential that it’s also individually essential, as the collective is made up of individuals rather than being an amorphous entity.

Hughes then extrapolates further as to why voting is individually pointless. He opposes the age-old argument that raises this hypothetical scenario: if everyone doesn’t vote, then we cease to live in a democracy. His problem with this argument is that the conditional clause is not only hypothetical but also false, as it would never happen in practice.

However, there are many other cases -- hypothetical and otherise -- that are true in that they’re practical scenarios that can and have happened. This is because individuals aren’t just cogs in the electoral machine -- individuals are parts of like-minded constituencies that, as communities, mutually benefit from their neighbors’ decision to vote by advancing common causes.

A recent case goes like this: when the black community in South Carolina turned out to vote in large numbers, then Biden won by a landslide, which caused other moderates to drop out, which made him in turn competitive in Super Tuesday against Sanders.

Technically, the argument can still be made that a single Black vote doesn’t matter in relation to the vote of the entire Black community. However, framing the case this way gives the decision to vote a greater purpose, as one may have a sense of duty and obligation to his/her community or political allies when casting a ballot.

Another, more hypothetical case is: If younger people turn out to vote as much as older people do, then Sanders will have a cakewalk to the nomination. As a young person, Hughes should grapple with this argument and contend with the idea that there’s more context to one’s individual vote than what meets the eye.

After establishing that individual votes don’t matter, Hughes goes on to speculate why people make the irrational decision to vote. He claims that people vote because of the fear of being shamed for not doing so. This is an odd speculation for two reasons: First, because it would be easier to simply lie about going to vote than actually going, and second because -- especially without any supporting data -- one should assume that people are showing up to vote primarily because they want to vote, even if, according to Hughes, that desire is irrational.

Hughes also claims that people who vote are engaging in the act of “moral grandstanding” and pretend the reasons why they vote are because of the policies they support, the effort to uphold democracy, or the effort to defeat Trump, so as to appear virtuous. Again, it’s puzzling as to why one would assert, without any supporting evidence, that these stated motives shouldn’t be taken at face value.

As mentioned earlier, Hughes’s arguments fail to address the significance that voting has in people’s lives as part of something greater than themselves. In fact, for many, this sense of obligation transcends their allegiance to their local community; they feel that, as Americans, they should strive to uphold the principle of self-government by voting in every election, whether for local representatives or for the Potus.

Many citizens feel that it’s simply their civic duty to vote, and it’s this sense of duty that’s largely missing from American culture today. Just as it’s honorable to donate to a cause that you value or to provide a helping hand to a struggling neighbor, it’s honorable to exercise your right to vote for those who strive to represent your values and the values of your community.