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What's a vote worth?

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It’s that season again, when the tax cattle come out to elect their new masters, and stuff his suggestion box. I try to stay out of it, mainly because I just find the whole thing so humiliating, but also because so often when I do vote I find myself being seduced into voting for things that once implemented I regret supporting.

People get really upset, red in the face angry, when I admit that I’m not that enthusiastic about voting. Especially since I spend so much time reading, writing and demonstrating about political issues. And inevitably a cavalcade of thought-terminating cliches is trotted out whenever I try to explain myself. And I think that’s pretty telling. Whenever I see disproportionate anger in response to harmless action (or in this case inaction) it suggests to me that we’re not talking about the action itself, we’re talking about a symbol, a sacred cow. We’re talking about an intellectual idol, a fundamentally superstitious process of anxiety management that I am disrupting by raising the wrong questions.

So, dear reader, I submit to you my humble attempt to explain why I’m not voting. Let’s start with some numbers:

In the 2008 presidential race the top 3 vote earners were Barack Obama, John McCain and Ralph Nader. Barack Obama’s campaign spent $513,557,218 and received 69,498,215 votes (22% of the population). John McCain’s campaign spent $346,666,422 and received 59,948,240 vote (19% of the population). Ralph Nader’s campaign spent $4,187,628 and received 738,720 votes (less than 1% of the population). These numbers are from the Federal Election Commission.

What’s immediately clear is that these elections do not represent the will of the majority, and the elected officials are not representative of the majority, because the majority doesn’t vote. Currently it’s not possible to determine to what degree this represents apathy or disapproval. Until “None of the Above” appears on the ballot it’s all nonsense. But here’s what’s interesting to me. All together these campaigns spent a total of $864,411,268 and received 130,185,175 for an average of $6.64 per vote. Measured this way I have already contributed more to political campaigns through monetary donations than every potential vote I could cast for the rest of my life. If you consider the time value of money I have probably accomplished more in the big picture by writing this article than I would by casting my vote for Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown. It’s important to keep in mind that there is an opportunity cost to everything. All the time you spend registering to vote, researching the propositions, debating with friends, looking up your polling location and driving down to drop your suggestion in the box is time you didn’t spend doing something more beneficial.

In theory the purpose of voting is to express our will to government, and the purpose of government is to protect our civil liberties. Increasingly, especially for Muslims, voting is not merely an act of civic engagement but an act of self defense. See, there’s actually two kinds of voting. The majority, whether they acknowledge it or not, vote in order to impose their will on others though the coercive force of the state, which is unconscionable. Still, some vote in order to prevent others from imposing their will on them.

In the last decade we’ve seen control of the political apparatus swing completely from right to left, but still the same problems persist and expand. The people elected a republican president that promised a humble foreign policy with no nation building and received eight years of the complete opposite. Then they elected a democrat president that promised to undo the worst of the damage only to give us more of the same.

We now have a government that arrests us without charges. Imprisons us without trial. Taps and tracks us without warrants. And, if we’re really special, authorizes the assassination of US citizens abroad based on secret evidence without any judicial or congressional oversight. And all this only sets precedents for future administrations to push the line a little further. I really don’t think these are the people we should be looking toward protect our civil liberties.

Instead Americans should be looking to their own voluntary institutions. Those desiring government oversight would be better served donating $6.64 to Cop Block or Downsize DC rather than trying to cultivate an honest politician to vote for. Those desperate for an honest monetary policy would be better served investing in Shire Silver or the Lakota Free Bank, rather than hoping and praying for support of Ron Paul's Audit the Fed Bill. Those concerned about the erosion of civil liberties should be contributing to organizations that protect them like CAIR and the ACLU, not begging the institution that threatens them.

If you truely care about the future of this society, it's time to allocate time and money to those organizations that are actually doing some good in this world. Because voting only gives us the illusion of taking actions when it is just a hair over accomplishing absolutely nothing.


  • Profile picture of Harold Shuckhart
    Harold Shuckhart 4 years ago

    First you say you are not voting and then, you criticize the election process because not enough people vote! If you are not going to vote, perhaps you shouldn't criticize those of us who do?

  • Profile picture of Davi Barker
    Davi Barker 4 years ago

    It is not a criticism that not enough people vote. It's a jab an the illusion of representation. It wouldn't matter if voter participation was 95%. No one is representing you. Until "none of the above" is an option, it's all nonsense.

    Try this. Pick your most evil corporation. One of the really nasty ones. Start searching on line for the customer service number and time how long it takes you to find it. Call it and see how they treat you. Now, do the same thing with one of your elected "representatives" and compare the results and let me know how it goes.

    You want to vote... go ahead. But I'm not going to pretend that you're accomplishing anything but anxiety management. You're voting for the very same reason that you're commenting on this article. Logically, there is very little chance of it changing anything, but it does sooth those lingering subconscious impressions that the system is broken.

  • Profile picture of Davi Barker
    Davi Barker 4 years ago

    I want to apologize. My first response was unnecessarily hostile in response to what I perceived as hostility. I assumed too much. Instead, maybe you can tell me what you contribute, in time or money, above and beyond your vote, to improve our political situation.

    Maybe also you can tell me whether you are voting to impose your will on others, or voting to protect yourself from the impositions of others.

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