On Voting

I’ve considered in the past running for some sort of government office, I wanted to make a difference.

My slogan would be “Don’t vote! But if you do, vote for me!”

I often imagined having the guy in this video say “I don’t always vote, but when I do, I vote for Jordan Smith.”

I’ve talked a lot about voting, to anyone who will let me. Most people are shocked when they find out that I don’t vote. Some people even say that it’s my responsibility as a US citizen to vote. Some say that if I don’t vote, I can’t complain about what happens. Some people take my lack of voting as apathy about my world. Some people argue that I should still vote for the “lesser of two weevils” because the consequences of not voting are, or potentially are worse. Some people tell me that I should still vote for this or that party even if I don’t like the candidates, because it’s important that the party be successful to avert disaster, doomsday, the apocalypse, Ragnarok, Gog and Magog what have you.

In response, I argue the following:

*Voting is a tacit agreement to whoever gets into power whether you voted for that person or not, since by participating in the system you must recognize that you might not get what you want.

*Voting is immoral, because it allows, supports and demands the use of force upon other people.

*Your vote doesn’t matter statistically.

*Your vote probably doesn’t matter at all.

*Voting is not actually a right, but a privilege granted to us by our government. When is voted written of as an “inalienable right”?

*Voting is dangerous.

I will go through examples of all the points made by both sides. You will find, that these issues are related and there may be some overlap.

It is your responsibility as a US Citizen to vote:

There are multiple quotations by founding fathers that imply that this is correct. To argue against something the founding fathers said is tantamount to being unpatriotic or some other social sin. In fact, however, the founding fathers didn’t all agree with each other. How can we venerate the ideas of two opposing founders? Some believed in slavery, others did not. Some believed in national banks, others did not. Some believed in federalism, some (the anti-federalists) did not. So just because a founding father said something, doesn’t make it true, despite their probable commitment to what was right.

Many people who believe that one has a duty to vote, have confused two concepts. They have confused “the right to vote” with “the rightness of voting”. In general, just because one has the right to do something, does not mean that that thing is the right thing to do.

The right to do something vs. the rightness of doing something is a concept that crops up all over. The argument could be made (and I would make it) that prostitution is wrong. However, does the fact that it’s wrong, mean that a consenting adult should not be able to “ply that trade” if that is his or her choice?

A family member of mine owns rental properties. We’ve discussed her right to raise rents on her properties. I don’t think anyone argues that she, being the owner of the property, has the right to charge whatever rent she wants (and pay the consequences of not finding renters if the rent is too high, or not making enough money and/or attracting bad renters if the rent is too low). Obviously, if she wants to have a renter then she should charge a rent that someone will pay. However, just because she has the right to charge any rent, including a rent at the very highest limit that someone might possibly be able to pay, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Rights and rightness are not necessarily correlated.

Another example is the consumption of drugs. As a human being, we have the right to put in our bodies what we want to, and pay the natural, mortal and possibly eternal consequences of doing so, but having the right to do so, doesn’t have anything to do with the morality of the issue. It doesn’t make it right.

In fact, the choice to exercise any of the inalienable rights that we have (much less the right to vote, which is NOT an inalienable right according to the Bill of Rights; voting wasn’t even mentioned in the constitution until much later, in the 14th Amendment) never implies morality. Let’s look at some of the big ones.

1) Freedom of speech. Because we supposedly have the right to free speech, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a duty to exercise our free speech.

2) Right to bear arms. Again, just because we have the right to bear arms, doesn’t morally obligate us to bear, or even own, arms. I know that I have some readers who choose not to “bear arms”.  Are you violating some civic duty? Of course not.

3) The privacy rights in the Fourth Amendment. Just because you have a right to privacy, doesn’t mean you have an obligation to maintain your privacy. We all to varying extents give up our privacy all the time. Just using Google to search things as opposed to startpage.com, or using Chrome as opposed to TOR is a choice to give up privacy in exchange for convenience. Choosing to write email instead of a letter is a choice to give up privacy. Is that immoral?

I think you get the picture.

Finally, whether there is a civic duty to be an engaged, “good”citizen, is a separate question from the issue of voting. Someone can be both civically engaged and a good citizen without voting. As a matter of fact, you might be a better citizen if you DIDN’T vote, if you don’t know enough to justify your vote. The issue of voting being a civic duty I think is best described in the section “Political Fallacy” in this article by the founder of the Economic Freedom Foundation.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain:

This, in my opinion, is one of the most insidious arguments to scare people into voting, not that most people are intentionally being “insidious” but because it’s so pervasive without people considering the implications.

In a swing state, if you vote for one of the two major candidates, you have a 1 in 10 million chance of breaking a tie. If it’s for another candidate or not in a swing state, the chance are even more vanishingly small. That’s basically telling a poor person that he can’t complain that he’s poor because he didn’t play the lottery (similar odds).

In every-day life, the claim of if you don’t vote, you can’t complain makes a sort of crude intuitive logic. If I ask you what you want for dinner, and you don’t contribute an idea, you can’t really complain when I make something you don’t like. You should have spoken up! You can also go eat something else even if I make something that you don’t like. If someone invests their time or money in something, it stands to reason that that person has more of a right to than an outsider to direct or complain about the course of the thing, whatever it is. Voting feels like an investment, it takes time to research the candidates, drive to the voting place etc, and perhaps money if you have to drive far or take time off work.

But, when this idea is applied to the ballot box, it becomes a troubling perversion and conflation of the concepts of consent and free speech. English radical Herbert Spencer addressed this issue best in his book Social Statics written in 1851. Additionally, I can’t just go have a different candidate rule over me if I didn’t vote, unlike dinner.

Spencer discusses what Blackstone said: “no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defense of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent or that of his representative in parliament.”. Spencer was troubled by this concept and explains why. He says that in stating that a man my not be taxed unless he gives his direct or indirect (either through himself or through his representative), it affirms that he may also refuse to be taxed. The contemporary argument against that was that consent is not specific, but general, and that every man is understood to have assented to anything his representative does (including taxation) when he voted for him. Since the act of voting is a literal and philosophically robust (it is accepted by political philosophers) delegation of one’s own power to make decisions in certain things to another, that concept bears out. But what happens if he didn’t vote for the guy who got elected? What if he voted for his competitor? The argument at the time, as I have often heard it said now, is that he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And so he does. What law-abiding citizen does not agree to follow the law, even if his favorite candidate is not elected? However, what if he doesn’t vote at all? Then all of a sudden he can’t complain of any tax or any other result for that matter, because he made no effort in the form of voting to stop it?

The result is, whether he votes for the winner, or whether he votes for the loser, or whether he doesn’t vote at all, he gives his consent to the result. How does that possibly make sense? There has to be a time when you are withholding your consent. That time is by not voting.

Here is a final quotation about the topic from Spencer’s book: “Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A’s consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say! It is for those who quote Blackstone to choose between this absurdity and the doctrine above set forth. Either his maxim implies the right to ignore the state, or it is sheer nonsense.” 

Apathy about the World: 

This is a similar argument to the “civic duty” argument. Basically, it implies that you are somehow reprobate, derelict, or otherwise deficient in your duties as a good citizen.

I ask you, which is a better citizen: the person who votes but won’t talk about the issues with his friends/family because it’s too intense? Or the person who eschews voting, but talks about the concepts of liberty with lots of people? Who does more to spread the concepts of liberty?

I’m sorry. That was a false dichotomy. Obviously there are people who do vote and who talk about the issues. But if you compare those who vote but refuse to engage in discussion (no politics at the dining table), to those who don’t vote but who are engaged in discussing important topics with others, who does more to spread the concepts of liberty? Yet even the voter who does nothing more than vote is considered to be more engaged and politically “righteous”

Lesser of Two Weevils:

This is an interesting idea, and I’ve heard it a lot. Basically the idea goes that if faced with multiple options, none of which are perfect, at least you should choose the “least bad” one.

I liken this to the scene from the movie Master and Commander where, as a joke, one character asks another which weevil he should eat, if presented with two. The answer: the lesser of two weevils.

This is funny, while also illustrating the crux of the matter. Eating a weevil of any size, is repugnant to me. It is something I would only do if I absolutely were forced to to avoid starvation. Just because one weevil is smaller, doesn’t really make you feel better, does it?

Being forced to choose the lesser of two evils is a moral tragedy and a political fallacy.

The Moral Tragedy

It is morally tragic when a citizen’s choice is between two wrongdoers.

I have never come across a candidate in my life with whom I agree completely. Even Ron Paul, with whom I mostly agreed, had some opinions that I completely disagreed with on a moral level (I can’t remember them now, but they nagged at me at the time). I doubt that any free thinker could find a candidate with whom they completely agreed with. I doubt that any logical person would claim that there is any candidate capable of winning an election (at least in major state elections and national elections) that didn’t trim, on occasion (a trimmer is one who changes his opinions and policies to suit the occasion. See pandering and demagoguery.) Bush, Obama, and Romney have all been caught trimming, as have the current 2016 presidential candidates.

Leonard Read, is the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, the first pro-freedom think tank in the United States. He is critical of policies that limit freedom and increase the size of government.

He wrote an article called The Lesser of Two Evils, from which I’ve gotten some of my language/talking points from. Referring to trimming and his accusation that politicians do it, he said:

“The above are severe charges, and I do not wish to be misunderstood. One of countless personal experiences will help clarify what is meant: A candidate for Congress sat across the desk listening to my views about limited government. At the conclusion of an hour’s discussion he remarked, ‘I am in thorough accord with your views: you are absolutely right. But I couldn’t get elected on any such platform, so I shall represent myself as holding views other than these.’ He might as well have added ‘I propose, in my campaign, to bear false witness….The role of the legislator is to secure our rights to life, liberty, and property – that is, to protect us against fraud, violence, predation, and misrepresentation (false witness). Would our candidates have us believe that ‘it takes a crook to catch a crook’?”

Whether we are of Judeo-Christian belief or not, if we generally ascribe to the principles from the Ten Commandments such as “Thou shalt not kill”; “Thou shalt not steal”; “Thou shalt not bear false witness”, then how can we give our support to someone who in all likelihood, by his willingness to trim (and therefore willingness to ignore the dictates of higher conscience) is someone who does not live his life in accordance with those principles? Even a small act of trimming shows that he stands ready to abandon the dictates of conscience for political advancement.

This is not just a fact of life that we have to deal with. It is because voters have accepted morally reprehensible candidates for so long that we now only have choices in the level of how reprehensible they are. Bad candidates are reflections of bad citizenship and neglect of thought, study, education, vigilance and a commitment to virtue and integrity. The wish to have high quality candidates to choose from is not a fantasy. Edmund Burke said:

“But his (the candidate’s) unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure – no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices to your opinion.”

Milton Friedman talks in this video about incentives for immoral behavior. It applies to the reason why we have immoral politicians.

The Political Fallacy

Is it wrong to believe that to be a responsible citizen you must vote for one or the other of the candidates (the lesser of the two evils, hopefully), no matter how immoral they are?

If you read the section of the article about Two Evils, then you’ll understand the arguments. I’ll summarize them.

If you had to vote between Hitler and Stalin, which would you choose? Obviously neither, because choosing either one would be allying yourself with an evil man.

In real life, it’s more insidious. It is established policy in the USA to conform with the Marxist tenet “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. There is a theory of “new economics” that rationalizes this theory, and it is used in government. One candidate stands for the coercive expropriation of earned income of citizens (taxes) and giving those funds to groups A, B, and C. The other does the same thing, but tries to appear to have the moral high ground by giving the funds to group X, Y, and Z instead.

Is it responsible citizenship to commit to either one? Committing to either one is not a moral choice, but rather an immoral one, one in which you make an unholy alliance with the one you hope might benefit the group you favor. It is not responsible citizenship, but irresponsible looting.

Read also mentions in the article that voting for a trimmer, even the lesser of two trimmers, only encourages more trimmers to run, and discourages moral men from running.

I’m quoting this next part because he says it as well as can be said:

“What would happen if we adopted as a criterion: Never vote for a trimmer! Conceding a gen­erous liberality on the part of the electorate, millions of us would not cast ballots. Would the end re­sult of this substantial, nonviolent protest, this large-scale demon­stration of ‘voting by turning our backs,’ worsen our situation? It is difficult to imagine how it could. For a while we would continue to get what we now have: a high percentage of trimmers and plun­derers in public office, men who promise privileges in exchange for ballots—and freedom. In time, however, with this silent but elo­quent refusal to participate, the situation might, conceivably, im­prove. Men of integrity and high moral quality—statesmen—might show forth and, if so, we could add their numbers to the few now in office.

Would a return to integrity by itself solve our problem? No, for many men of integrity do not un­derstand freedom; or, if they do, are not devoted to it. But it is only among men of integrity that any solution can begin to take shape. Such men, at least, will do the right as they see the right; they tend to be teachable. Trimmers and plunderers, on the other hand, are the enemies of morality and freedom by definition; their motivations are below the level of principles; they cannot see beyond the emoluments of office.

Here is a thought to weigh: If respect for a candidate’s integrity were widely adopted as a criterion for casting a ballot, millions of us, as matters now stand, would not cast ballots. Yet, in a very practical sense, would not those of us who protest in this manner be voting? Certainly, we would be counted among that growing number who, by our conscious and deliberate inaction, proclaim that we have no party. What other choice have we at the polling level? Would not this encourage men of statesmanlike qualities to offer themselves in candidacy?”

There is way too much in the article to cover, but I think I’ve covered the issue of the lesser of two evils.

Even if you don’t like the candidate, you should still vote for the party:

Why should I? Since when is anything one party of the other going to do that is so horrible (in the US at least) that I should vote for the other party just to keep it from winning? Historically speaking, there’s never been a time that one party was so evil in the US that when it got into power it was a disaster. All parties have done bad things, and there’s no way to categorically say that one party is preferable to another.

In addition, just because a candidate is registered as belonging to one party or another means practically nothing in and of itself. Trump has historically supported democrats, but is running as a republican. Ron Paul is a libertarian but he ran as a Republican. Even if the candidate has historically been in line with his/her current party’s platform, there’s no guarantee that promises will be kept. In fact, there’s every reason to believe they won’t be, since they hardly ever are.

*********

Now that I’ve addressed the fallacies about voting, I’ll go over what I believe to be the facts about voting that don’t recommend it.

Voting is a tacit consent to abide by whatever the winner decides to do, whether you voted for him or not:

What is voting if it is not giving consent? It’s meaningless without the concept of consent. If I vote for someone, it means I am consenting to him making decisions for me. That is a basic principle of voting for someone. When you vote, you voluntarily consent to take part in the system of government that is putting on the vote .

Locke supposed that we all give explicit consent to being governed when he wrote in his Second Treatise:

“Men being…by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent, which is done by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe and peaceable living…they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only the will and determination of the majority… And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation to everyone of that society to submit to the determination of the majority.”

However, he was only partly right. This would work for the very first generation, but not subsequent generations, which undergo no such process. He seems to have realized this later in the treatise when he said that consent is not actually spoken, but may be understood to have been given:

“every man that hath any possession or enjoyment of any part of the dominions of any government doth hereby give his tacit consent…whether this his possession be of land to him and his heirs for ever…or whether it be barely travelling freely on the highway”. 

Voting is theoretically, if not factually (because do our votes matter?), having part in the dominion of a government.

The only way to withhold your consent is to not take part in the voting. By withholding your consent through abstention of voting, you remove the moral justification of government for doing the things it does. After all, even in it’s evil, it is supposedly a government for, by and of the people, and the people who run and are elected, are reflections of the citizenry. By withholding your vote, the government no longer has the morality of our consent on its side.

Since I don’t consent to government rule, I abstain from voting.

Voting is Immoral:

How could it possibly be immoral, you might ask.

This is not meant to be offensive. When faced with the prospect that what they’re doing might be wrong, people feel offended by this claim. But that is not my intention. Think about what happens when you vote. You essentially contribute to the empowerment of someone who is guaranteed to use that power to at very least take your money away from you, or take it from other people, and possibly force other people to do things through enforcement of current laws or ratification of new ones. That force is done through the eventual point of a gun. If you refuse to pay taxes, what is the end of the line of that process? If you refuse to obey laws that you don’t agree with, what is the end of the line of that process? By voting, you are empowering someone to coerce someone else. That is not OK. One of the important principles of freedom is the Non-Aggression Principle. Basically it is not OK to use force or to threaten to use force unless you are defending yourself or others, your rights and your property.

There is very little (if any) moral difference between stealing money from a rich person and giving it to a poor person, and delegating someone else to do it for you. In addition, echoing the concern of the moral tragedy, voting is similar to two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. You know what’s going to happen.

Here’s an article from the Mises Institute if you want to read more about the morality of voting.

In addition, when you vote, since you are giving tacit consent, you are signing your name to countless misdeeds. When we vote, if we boil it down, we’re saying that we think that what we want to have happen is important enough that we’re willing to have men with guns make our fellow citizens conform and obey, even if they think something else is important.

Check these articles from libertarianism.org for more: http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/voting-moral-wrong

http://www.libertarianism.org/blog/political-obligations-paying-taxes

http://www.libertarianism.org/blog/important-concepts-political-obligation

http://www.libertarianism.org/media/free-thoughts-podcast/do-we-have-duty-obey-government

Your vote doesn’t matter statistically:

“In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. And there are precious few examples of any other elections decided by a single vote. A 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter looked at 56,613 contested congressional and state legislative races dating back to 1898. Of the 40,000 state legislative elections they examined, encompassing about 1 billion votes cast, only seven were decided by a single vote (two were tied). A 1910 Buffalo contest was the lone single-vote victory in a century’s worth of congressional races. In four of the 10 ultra-close campaigns flagged in the paper, further research by the authors turned up evidence that subsequent recounts unearthed margins larger than the official record initially suggested.

The numbers just get more ridiculous from there. In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million. In a couple of key states, the chance that a random vote will be decisive creeps closer to one in 10 million, which drags voters into the dubious company of people gunning for the Mega-Lotto jackpot. The authors optimistically suggest that even with those terrible odds, you may still choose to vote because “the payoff is the chance to change national policy and improve (one hopes) the lives of hundreds of millions, compared to the alternative if the other candidate were to win.” But how big does that payoff have to be to make voting worthwhile?”

The above quotation came from this article: https://reason.com/archives/2012/10/03/your-vote-doesnt-count/

Your vote doesn’t matter practically:

When has voting resulted in long-lasting (much less permanent) positive changes? People have been talking about “voting the bums out” for decades. It’s the go-to method to improve things. When has it? When have long-lasting positive changes have come about by being an active voter?

In addition, when have you felt that the person you voted for actually ended up representing your values, interests, needs, etc? “Voting the bums out” doesn’t work because the people who want to be in power, and have the ability to get that power, are the only ones who will be elected even when you “vote the bums out”. It’s a cycle that can only now be ended by refusing to vote.

In this short video, Milton Friedman explains that voting the bums out of office isn’t the way to effect change.

 

Voting is not a right, but a “privilege”: 

Voting is not listed in the Bill of Rights. It is not considered an inalienable right by the Founding Fathers. In general, the Founders considered voting a only privilege or a duty. Voting is an institution that is granted to us by our government, amd we do so at the largesse of our government.

Emma Goldman was an old-school anarchist. I don’t agree with most of what she said/did. Read about her here if you care to. However, one thing she said that I do agree with is “if voting changed anything it would be illegal”. If there’s one thing I’m sure of is that government is intent on keeping and increasing its power. If government thought that our system of voting had the ability to meaningfully curtail its ability to do so, then it would be illegal. Why would it provide us with the means of its own destruction?

Voting is Dangerous:

When you vote, as I’ve mentioned, you’re giving up your ability to make decisions about certain things, and delegating that power to someone else. Locke, the founding father of the Founding Fathers, bears this out. When you give up that power, you become vulnerable. Have you ever been concerned about not being able to do anything about the current situation of the world/country? That vulnerability is derived from the fact that powers that we would have for ourselves in a free and natural state are given up to others.

When we vote, we philosophically enslave ourselves to the majority. If we don’t vote, on an individual level, the majority might still be the same. However, they would then have no MORAL right to control us. When we do vote, they have a clear event to point to that says that you gave tacit consent to the outcome, even if it’s not the outcome you wanted.

Voting makes the minority slaves of the majority.

 

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