Why I didn’t vote

The last time I voted was in 2002. And once again, after careful thought, I decided to sit this one out. There are lots of good reasons to vote. But there are also good reasons not to vote. They deserve to be taken seriously.

One reason not to vote is math. Average voter turnout for a midterm is about 200,000 in my district, Virginia’s 8th. I have one vote. So the odds of my vote being decisive border on zero.

My district is also bright blue, usually voting about 70-30 Democratic. So if I vote Democratic, I’m not affecting the outcome. I’m adding to the pile. If I vote Republican, it’s not like that would change the outcome, either.

This year is different, and closer than usual. The incumbent congressman, Democrat Jim Moran, is polling below 50 percent. That is usually a sign of danger for an incumbent. If I am going to vote, it will usually be against the incumbent, regardless of party. So that’s one inducement to vote.

The trouble is that barely a quarter of my district’s voters have even heard of Moran’s Republican opponent, Patrick Murray. His polling is actually five points higher than his name recognition, but that only gets him to the low 30s — nearly 15 points behind the incumbent. Moran is widely expected to win an eleventh term, despite his high negatives.

The math makes a pretty cut and dry case for not voting, but that’s not the whole story. A lot of people do the math, and vote anyway. That’s because voting is a way for them to express themselves. People value participating in democracy. They value having their say, exercising their rights.

Expressive voting is perfectly legitimate. It’s a value judgment. And values are subjective. There’s no right or wrong answer to how much value to place on expression. Different people have different answers. But the higher your value, the more likely you are to vote.

Most years, my value on expressive voting is pretty low. After all, I already make my living expressing my opinions on policy issues.

That leads us to the economist’s argument: voting takes time. I can spend that time voting. Or I can spend that time writing an article for publication. I have one vote, and no effect on the outcome. But hundreds of people read my blog posts. Thousands of people will read an op-ed in an outside publication. Spending 20 minutes voting instead of writing actually decreases my impact.

Of course, a close election would raise the value of a vote relative to an article. And that’s something I have to calculate every year. But usually I’d rather write than vote. If I want to actually impact policy, writing is usually a more effective use of my time than voting.

Some libertarians have another reason not to vote. They say voting legitimizes the current system. This is not a serious argument. As Dan Mitchell put it, “Does anyone actually think that the corrupt crowd in Washington will suddenly stop stealing our money and trying to control our lives if fewer people decide to vote? I don’t think it would have the slightest impact on their behavior.”

  • Buckoux

    “Whether or not to vote is an individual decision people need to make for themselves.”

    True enough. Voting is a “Right” to be exercised and like the 2nd. Amendment no one can force you to “arm” yourself but you have the right to do so. That said, there are millions of Americans lying silent in graves around this globe who sacrificed their lives to maintain the rights of this country’s living citizens.

    NOT to vote is to refuse to attend this Republic’s call to the prayer to honor a day of democracy every two years known as election day. It may not be your civic duty to vote “for” someone or any measure, but it is the debt you owe to others that you show up and put your mark on a ballot. Even if it’s about only one office, or one issue and leave the rest blank. The graves of the fallen will then “warmer, sweeter be” and you will not be an arrogant bastard.

  • kroyall

    You usually vote against the incumbent when you do vote? On what basis? Is it because of a simplistic notion that all politicians are the same? Well, they’re not. If you don’t see the difference between a Paul Ryan and a Steny Hoyer then I don’t what to tell you. Maybe you are just lazy and don’t want to research the candidates.

    To say you don’t have time to vote is also idiotic. Is your life really that full that you can’t break away for an hour once a year or so? You can vote absentee by mail at your convenience.

    Finally, to base your decision on pre-election polling is also faulty. It really looked like Angle was going to win in Nevada, maybe thousands of morons like you figured she was a shoe-in and stayed home. Now we are stuck with Harry Reid for 6 more years. Another example of a useless Libertarian, taking condescending shots from the sidelines while accomplishing nothing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jasmine-Clark/1785223171 Jasmine Clark

      great comment overall. i want to add, that’s also why i think christine odonnell lost. so many people said “she can’t win.” she is “unelectable.” they didnt vote for her because they thought it was pointless. then, she lost. the worst part is those same people are now saying “we told you so” when it’s really their fault to begin with!!

  • gringott

    Thank you for not voting. That you see writing this piece or voting mutually exclusive, highlights your poor time management skills, compounded by your nonsensical arguments. Please, continue to not vote. Hopefully you will convince other fools to follow you. After all, look how many fools Obama convinced to follow him.

  • Pingback: Last Word on Voting | Inertia Wins!

  • paradelife

    Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual — or at least that he ought not so to do — but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.

    — Samuel Adams in The Boston Gazette, April 16, 1781


  • Newly Minted

    This “nothing changes” line is what they want us to think.

    They tried it on Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ken Buck. Total unknowns won handily in the House:

    – Trey Gowdy, S.C.-4
    – Jesse Kelly, Ariz.-8
    – Raul Labrador, Idaho-1
    – Todd Young, Ind.-9
    – Dan Benishek, Mich.-1
    – Justin Amash, Mich.-3
    – Tim Scott, S.C.-1
    – James Lankford, Okla.-5

    Murphy’s loss to Moran is sad but the fault lies not with “the system.” The fault lies with a district that has too many people like you who use cynicism as an excuse to be complacent. In other words, it’s our fault. Moran can be defeated in this district. If Oberstar, Skelton, Spratt and Boucher can be defeated, so can Moran.

  • junkmaninohio

    In a way I’m glad that morons like Mr. Ryan don’t vote. A lot of good people have died to give this idiot the privilage of voting. Ryan should be ashamed of himself. Maybe he should move to China or North Korea where voting is really discouraged.

  • Really

    Why I did’nt eat today.

    The last time I ate was yeasterday. After vomiting over an article I read on not voting, I decided to not eat today. There are lots of good reasons to eat. There are also good reasons not to eat. They deserve to be taken seriously?

    One reason not to eat is math. Everyone eats, if I eat too, how does that make me different? Also, most people eat breakfast, I don’t like breakfast, it distracts from my time on twitter, there is only so many minutes in the day.

    A lot of people do the math, and eat anyway. That’s because eating is a way for them to express themselves. Eating is a value judgment. And values are subjective. If I slap you in the face and you say thats wrong, thats just your value judgment. There’s no right or wrong bla bla bla bla

    • BillyShaft