Don’t Tell Me Not To Not Vote

It’s that time again. Once every four years we see millions, nay, billions of dollars wasted on pageantry, spectacle, and foolishness. It’s not just the direct participants who throw their money away either, as every big corporation in the world wants in on this gravy train, even though the truth is most of them will never make their money back. But what the heck, the people do love their bread and circuses.

Oh wait, they made the Olympics every two years, didn’t they?

Well that’s okay, the people still get their Leap Year frivolity in the form of our presidential elections. Once again I am hard pressed to find much if any difference in the offerings on the left and the right, and I am astounded by the fervor with which others are approaching the coming election. I could sooner see for getting worked up over a table tennis match (that is still an Olympic event, isn’t it?) But that’s not what bothers me the most. What bothers me is when people find out I have no intention of voting and then they say something offensive like “if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the way things turn out.” Yeah, I said that’s offensive. Not just idiotic, but actually offensive, and I’ll explain why.

Consider what the average voter turnout is in our country these days, or even over the last twenty years (about as long as I’ve been voting.) Does it still hover in the mid-thirty percentile range? So roughly one-third of eligible voters are actually ready, willing, and motivated enough to go to the polls and let their voices be heard. And is it the responsibility of our civic leaders to inspire us to want to vote? Is it the duty of our elected officials and candidates to office to give us reasons to invest the time and effort, as little as it might seem to some? Is it perhaps the obligation of those who hold the power in the land to find a way to cut through the malaise and disillusionment and reach to the best part of each of us?

No. It seems that the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. If we don’t pull the switch and vote for either A or B, we don’t get to complain there was no option C. And even if there was an option C, if we aren’t satisfied with that one, we don’t get to complain about that unless we pull the handle for one of the above. And that’s the problem with the whole system and those who give that simplistic response. There is no option for “none of the above” (a la Brewster’s Millions). In this “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” scenario, you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the problem.

The message that these people, and our Most Beloved Leaders in both parties, aren’t getting is that there’s a lot of people who are dissatisfied with the entire system. I don’t mean to say they’re dissatisfied in the same way I am (that would be its own brand of hubris); rather they are, each and every one of them, dissatisfied in their own unique way. The only thing we all have in common is that we don’t like any of the options we’re being presented with well enough to vote for them, nor do we dislike them significantly less than the other options. Given a choice between a shit sandwich and shit soufflé, I’ll just go hungry, thanks.

But the system is rigged. There’s no way to step in the booth and say “a plague on both your houses.” The only options available both suck. The first is the one that is hinted at ever so obliquely by the people above, who don’t want to come out and say what they really mean because even they realize how terrible the truth sounds: “If you don’t vote you’re powerless. You don’t have a voice of any kind. Nobody in power takes you seriously. You may only get crumbs of what you want when you vote for the guys they offer, but if you don’t vote at all you get nothing.”

Option number two is to be out in the cold, ignored except as part of a statistic that is used by the nightly news and each party to bash each other over the head, when they’re not busy trying to shame all of America one generation at a time. “Why aren’t Americans voting? It’s a travesty! It’s a tragedy! It’s somebody’s fault who isn’t me!” “The young aren’t voting! The old aren’t voting! The [insert group that is more likely to vote for politician who is currently speaking] vote is being suppressed!”

Here’s a crazy idea. How about next time we decide to elect anyone for anything, we just have one election. One person, one vote. And we have it open for a week, twenty-four hours a day, so there’s plenty of time for voting. Only here’s the catch: there’s no pre-filled voting cards. No letters next to names. You step up and write down the name of the person you want to vote for. Get rid of the parties and see what happens.

I wonder.