By Karla Fetrow
An average thirty to forty percent of registered voters do not turn out on election day. The percentage jumps a little higher when you count in the number of people who are eligible to vote but don’t even register. The disparity is blamed on apathy, on an ill informed public, on an inability to travel freely from one destination point to another. Each election year, part of the general campaign is to “get people out there to vote”, and the disappointment is great when the same dismal statistics apply election after election, with the losing party convinced if only that forty percent had turned out, they would have turned the scales and made a difference. The non-voter, for all practical purposes, has become part of the problem.
The fallacy of this type of reasoning becomes immediately apparent. While some people might not be able to make it to the polls because of transportation problems, most people have something they can rely on; if not their own vehicle, than a bus or a ride with their neighbors. Plenty of people are ill-informed, but that doesn’t stop them from punching their opinions into the little electronic voting cards. There is no indication that should the absent voters arrive in a solid mass to register their preference, that the percentage would change favorably for any particular candidate.
Apathy is directed related to depression. It is not part of the problem but the by product of an already existing one. Apathy is the resignation of all hope, the admission of defeat, the pulling away from social discourse and active participation in the community. Those who accuse the non-voting bloc of apathy are making a very serious statement. They are asserting that forty percent of the population is too caught up in personal despair to put out the effort to vote. While there are no statistics proving depression hinders the motivations for non-voting, the reasons non voters give for demonstrating their objections to the mechanisms of the vote are well vocalized.
According to Carl Watner, of Strike the Root, the democratic government makes two principal demands of its citizens; paying taxes and voting. While taxation carries criminal sanctions, failure to vote in government elections carry no penalties. In order for the government to work, however, as the representative force of its constituents, it’s necessary for it to acquire the appearance that it speaks for the majority of the people. It shapes us from childhood to believe that voting is a patriotic duty. We feel obliged to vote. After all, there are people who fought and died to defend the vote, some of them our ancestors. We are made to feel the vote is the first line of defense for our basic freedoms.
The message of the non-voter is not one of apathy, but one of refusal to enable the elite and special interest segments of society.
There are a number of reasons why voting is ineffective in our modern society. Zoning blocs are carefully divided to favor certain candidates over others. Beginning on the assembly level, if a candidate is popular with one demographic area but not another, the area will be divided to either weaken or strengthen the vote of the candidate, depending on the special interests of those who have invested in that area.
Campaigns are based on the amount of money donated for publicity and press coverage. The more the candidate can afford to pay for advertising and media coverage, the more recognizable the name will be, and the greater the assumption that this is a popular, well known candidate. Popular voting is no different than going to a sporting event with the intent of picking a winner. The intent isn’t to pick the person who best represents public interest, but to pick the one who was definitely designed to be a shining star.
The dissolution of differences between the Democratic and Republican party; that is a single interest policy for capital gain; has defeated the purpose of the two-party system. A democracy implies that there are two opposing points of view, and that by equally representing them, the answers to dilemmas will be found somewhere in the middle. The coercive influence of the vote has propelled middle ground America into a single direction; one that has surrendered its wealth, incriminated its masses and waged acts of aggression against foreign countries.
Voting is an enabling process. It gives tacit agreement to be governed according to the mandates of the elective cabinet. Theodore Lowi, states in his book, Incomplete Conquest: Governing America, “Participation is an instrument of [government] conquest because it encourages people to give their consent to being governed . . . . Deeply embedded in people’s sense of fair play is the principle that those who play the game must accept the outcome. Those who participate in politics are similarly committed, even if they are consistently on the losing side. Why do politicians plead with everyone to get out and vote? Because voting is the simplest and easiest form of participation [of supporting the state] by masses of people. Even though it is minimal participation, it is sufficient to commit all voters to being governed, regardless of who wins.”
Truth is not dependent on majority rule. The wrong doing of a large, collective group against a smaller, weaker one is still a wrong doing. In a democratic society, majority rule should never usurp the rights of an individual or group of individuals and yet we see the consequences of majority favoritism in the persecution of ethnic/religious divisions, same sex gender preferences and rural issues.
The League of Non-Voters does not encourage apathy. A very large number of their organization are activists, engaged in community projects, charities, environmental issues, humanitarian efforts. In an essay called “Don’t Just Not-Vote, Get Active”, the author states, “ The idea is to dream up and practice the many ways we can take power out of the hands of the elite, be they elected or unelected, and redistribute it to everyone through a network of free communities and neighborhoods. We do not do this to gain control over others, but to attain control together—over how we provide each other with shelter, education, art, and information, over how we resolve conflicts, over how we share resources and ideas, over how we determine our own lives.”
There are two classifications of the conscientious non-voter; the strategic non-voter and the ethical non-voter. The strategic non-voter typically hopes to see large segments of the population uniting in a refusal to vote on the grounds that a mass movement would show clear discontent with the established order. Strategic voters also view voting and participation in political life in general as a diversion from other, more fruitful efforts. The time, money and energy spent supporting a candidate could be far more effectively used to support a community service project or in expressing discontent with the policies and process of the administrating body.
In addition to strategic non-voters, there are also ethical non-voters, those who reject voting outright, not merely as an ineffective tactic for change, but moreover because they view the act as either (A) a grant of consent by the voter to be governed by the state, (B) a means of imposing illegitimate control and rulership over one’s countrymen, or (C) both A and B. Thus, this view holds that through voting, one necessarily finds one’s self violating the non-aggression axiom. (Alexander S. Peak; “What is Non-Voting?”)
We are a Nation in discontent, at arms against each other over the legitimacy of our elective body. Regardless of who we vote for, what position we take, we feel we are not adequately being represented. Within the focus of granting the state more power to control our economic stability, enforce criminal law and maintain an active militia, we give away more of our individual rights to self-determination.
The ineffectiveness of electronic voting was dramatically demonstrated in the last Alaskan general election for the Senate. Ousted from her position as the Republican incumbent by Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, Liza Murkowski took her campaign to a write-in vote, forcing a hand count of the ballots. The results were startling. The election process, which was usually finished within hours after the booths are closed, is still counting the votes, putting up the tallies on a daily process. The break down created a personal touch, left a conscious realization of the legislated preferences of individual communities. Even more revealing were the results of the rural vote. Long considered a weak and fractured division of the majority centered around the Municipality of Anchorage and the Matanuska/Susitna Borough, the election now hinges on the results of the rural votes. The solid bloc strength of the rural numbers leaves one to wonder how accurate the electronic voting machines have been in counting the preferences of the rural populace.
We are a Nation in discontent because the good of the whole has been sacrificed for a popularity contest of numbers. The concentration is no longer on, “what can I do to help create a healthier society”, but “how can I insure that my party wins”. When it becomes a winner-loser contest, we all lose. We all become caught up in the web of candidates for profit. We all become embattled with family, friends and neighbors we once respected but now do not because of their choices in political candidates. We lose the strength of unity. Whether a strategic non-voter, an ethical non-voter, or simply someone agrees change is needed, perhaps the best statement that could be made in the next election, is to go down to the voting booths, write in your candidate of choice, or better yet, simply inscribe, “none of the above”.