Exercise your right to not vote
Thursday, October 24, 1996 at 12:00 PM
Shawn Plank in democracy, editorials, elections, political campaigns, voting

As Election Day draws near, we’ll start hearing those public service announcements on radio and TV with patriotic music playing in the background and some richly voiced actor narrating.

“Exercise your freedom,” he’ll say dramatically. “Vote.”

We’ll also start seeing those newspaper editorials that staffs have pulled out of the “We Have Run Out of Topics On Which to Have an Opinion” emergency back-up file.

“Nothing is more important than exercising your right to vote,” the often-recycled, old chestnut of an editorial will say. “By voting, you send a message to our elected leaders that you care. The act of standing in the privacy of a voting booth and pulling the levers of democracy is the ultimate patriotic act in which all eligible American citizens should participate. Our Founding Fathers battled and sweated to give you this right, so by not voting, you deserve the government you get and should generally be wracked with guilt and remorse.”

But are people who don’t vote necessarily evil influences who should be kept away from our children? Do people who avoid voting spell doom for our democracy?

Hardly. We have a mistaken, unchallenged notion that voting makes us better people and a better nation. “Vote,” is one of those unquestioned truths, along with, “Wear Your Seat Belts,” “Eat Your Vegetables,” “Practice Safe Sex” and “Kids, Don’t Try This at Home.” It should not be.

While our forefathers and foremothers strived to win our right to vote, we shouldn’t vote simply out of our obligation and our respect for them. Don’t get me wrong, voting and democracy are great things. In the voting booth, we are each as powerful as the tycoon, the president and Madonna because we all have one equally valuable vote. 

It is so valuable, in fact, that the candidates vying for your one vote should earn it. Why, for example, should we vote between two candidates who sling slick, misleading negative ads at each other as the main thrust of their campaigns? We all know these negative ads mean very little and usually ignore or blow out of proportion the issues in the race. We decry the ads and tell them to stop it and to focus on what matters.

But the candidates don’t stop, because even though we hate their tactics, we vote for them.

They campaign negatively, we hate it and yet, we reward them with our very valuable vote. The message the candidate gets is this: “Ooh, belittle me, make me feel stupid, baby, we love when you go negative and make us feel cheap and used, ooh, yeah, here’s my vote, do it to me some more!”

It becomes an abusive relationship and a potential topic for Geraldo: “Politicians who abuse voters and the voters who love them.”

In such a situation, we are actually weakening our vote by giving it away indiscriminately to candidates who don’t truly earn it. We further weaken our vote by having one of these two boneheads in office, serving in one form or another as the guardian of our democracy and the custodian of our very right to vote. If they perform in office as simplemindedly as they campaigned, how can we trust them to protect these rights?

By voting, you should be sending a message that you approve of the candidate. Not voting doesn’t mean you don’t care. It should be an indication you care so much that you want to send the candidates a message that you don’t approve of either of them or their tactics.

Currently, we tell people to vote because it is their obligation or that it will make them feel good. Sex will make you feel good, too, but we don’t encourage people to have sex as indiscriminately because it could be dangerous. But isn’t voting indiscriminately just as dangerous?

You should be as careful with your vote as you are about sex. You should be fully informed of the consequences of your actions. And if the candidate you use your vote on campaigns as if he or she doesn’t respect you, you should save yourself for someone who does. 

Yes, we should remember those who won our right to vote and honor them on Election Day. We can honor them by going to the polling place and casting our vote for candidates who earn it. But we can honor them just as much by refusing to dignify with our treasured right to vote the candidates who insult our intelligence and cheapen our democracy.

Article originally appeared on shawnplank (http://www.shawnplank.com/).
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