I refuse to participate in a sham election, but I won't look down on you if you do 

Why I Don't Vote

Now that Election Day is over and all the votes have been counted, the people who run things can get back to the very important business of raising money for the next election. They'll do this, of course, by reminding you that either A) there's still a lot of work to be done to defeat "the other side" or B) "the other side" won and the struggle to defeat them must never stop.

It's a brilliant strategy, really. In fact, it's almost like declaring a War on Terror without there really being a defined enemy or a condition for winning. And like all of our endless wars without an exit strategy, the voting process in America seems to exist only to perpetuate itself. I don't participate in that perpetuation, and I've never made a secret of that fact.

Now, I can't say that I have never voted. I did, once, in the first presidential race that I was eligible for. Having seen what four years of President Bill Clinton had given us, in 1996 I wrote in the Socialist Party candidate. Was my vote "wasted"? Well, if every vote matters as many say, then no. But in the grand scheme of things it was a wasted vote — and it's something I have not repeated since.

Over the years, I've taken a good bit of heat from people on my refusal to vote. I've heard all the arguments for why I should — I'll get to those in a bit — and I've been told time and again that I can't be taken seriously if I don't exercise my right to vote.

I've never understood how that works. After all, if I vote and I don't vote the way you think I should, won't you still have problems taking me seriously? It's a never-ending cycle of bad logic by people who want to believe, truly and deeply, that they have some say in what goes on in this country. And it's just another grand part of the American myth, like the self-made man and the power of free markets.

Voting, of course, is held as the only way to make your voice heard in our country's political discourse. This naturally is very true if one completely ignores the other ways you can make your voice be heard: going to town, city, or county council meetings; going to (or better, getting on) local boards and committees; organizing your neighborhood; joining a movement; or creating alternative organizations in your own home or community that are outside what is considered "normal."

You see, voting is just another way that people can feel superior to others. They even give you a sticker when you go and do it. And, with or without that sticker, you can shame other people by saying, "I voted, and so, of course, you're a loser." That's just a pathetic bit of one-upmanship that utterly fails at creating a real discourse in this country between that minority who vote (most of the time) and the vast majority of those of us who don't (most of the time).

Another tired trope thrown out by the proud legions of the "I voted" brigade is this interesting notion that it is your "civic duty." Well, that sounds really awe-inspiring and patriotic, but it's utter baloney.

If voting were a civic duty, then it would be mandatory. And if it were mandatory, you can bet your last dollar the right-wing would turn out in droves, babbling about "big government" and "mandates" and all of those other things they talk about since they can't talk about actual policy.

In fact, not only is voting not a civic duty, it never was considered one for most Americans. Only in the last century have women been granted the right to vote in America and only in the last 50 has the right of African Americans to vote been enforced (although, to be sure, certain elements of the system are working to disenfranchise African Americans, and Latinos, and probably women as well, even as we speak).

But the most common idea thrown around in the run up to an election is this notion that voting gives you some special right to later complain about the results. The "if you don't vote, you can't complain" argument sounds pretty compelling on the surface, but, just like all ridiculously empty platitudes, it only takes a few scratches to reveal its flaws.

Let's say, for instance, that you are with a group of friends trying to decide where to eat. At first, everyone has their own idea and wants everyone else to go along with it. We'll call this primary season. Eventually, two or three ideas win out, and the group decides to put it to a vote. However, not only did your pick not make the list, but the remaining choices either don't appeal to you at all or they've made you ill in the past and you aren't looking forward to repeating the experience. Should you vote anyway? After all, if none of the choices are a good choice to you are you really giving up your right to complain later? More importantly, even if you vote, won't your later complaints about the food poisoning you came down with just seem like sour grapes?

Sour grapes or not, the right to complain shouldn't come down to a litmus test over whether or not you participated. After all, here in South Carolina, where one-party rule is basically codified into the state constitution, voting is little more than an excuse given by tired liberals. "Well," they say, "I voted. I did something. I tried." And that's about the sum of it for many.

But when your own party fails to even give you viable options — or any options in some cases — it's hard to make the case that you can't complain about the outcome if you choose not to participate. In fact, not voting should actually be seen as strengthening your right to complain.

Now, I certainly don't put myself out there as any sort of a rebel by choosing not to vote, any more than you should see yourself as any sort of a hero if you do. These are just choices that people make, the same as if we were choosing a restaurant for the evening. Everyone has their own personal convictions, and mine tell me that participating in what I see as a sham process would simply make me a party to the sham.

I won't have that, but I won't look down on others who see it differently.

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