Archive for November, 2004

The futility of [un]voting

Monday, November 1st, 2004

In October posts Peter Saint-Andre makes the case that real reform comes from outside the system and that by contrast voting is futile. I’m completely on board with the former and sympathize with the latter (though I am voting this time). However, Saint-Andre errs in imagining that purposefully not voting or “unvoting” is anything but futile:

As far as I can see, the only moral option remaining to me is to withdraw my sanction and consent, in as explicit a manner as I can. Only about 40% of eligible voters turn out to vote in American elections. What if that number were 30%, or 20%, or 10%? What if the number of unvoters were greater than the number of voters? What if twice as many people unvoted as voted? Wouldn’t that expose the fact that this government (no matter which monkey is in charge) does not have the consent of the governed?


  • Voter turnout is already as low as ten percent in local elections, and that’s among registered voters. I have never heard anyone complain that their local government is illegitimate because it was elected by a tiny minority of potential voters — possibly only a few percent.
  • Low voter turnout can be interpreted in many ways, including disaffection, apathy, and even contentment.
  • Not voting has never changed anything — a record even less impressive than voting. Why expect unvoting to suddenly become relevant? But what if many of those non voters became explicit unvoters? Indeed, what if! Pure fantasy as far as I can see.

Voting may be futile, but so is imagining that not voting is an effective vote against the system.

Along similar lines, from a post that appeared as I wrote this one:

One man can change the world. And he doesn’t need to vote to do it.

He also doesn’t need to not vote. I have a feeling that advocates of non-voting overestimate the relevance of voting.