- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

The get-out-the-vote drive is now in full swing, with widespread efforts to browbeat voters into exercising their franchise in November with various “sound bite” arguments. Unfortunately, virtually every argument has serious logic flaws.

• If you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice in government. This is one of many arguments based on the false premise your vote will affect what passes and who is elected. But your vote will make no difference in the outcome. You will prosper or suffer under the same laws and representatives if you voted for the winner or the loser, or didn’t vote at all.

If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about government. This also makes the false assumption that your vote will alter the outcome. But even if your vote determined the result, binary choices between “electable” candidates and yes or no votes on initiatives written by special interest groups hardly empower you to invoke your preferences.

If you don’t vote, you don’t care about America. No amount of caring for America justifies voting if that vote doesn’t alter the outcome. Abstaining has been common from the foundation of our country (though unlike today, it then largely reflected the fact the government had little power to hurt or help you), when new citizens who had put their lives on the line cared a great deal.

• Many brave Americans have died to defend your right to vote. Those who fought to found and preserve our country did so for our liberty and to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” not for our right to vote. Anyone with even a little knowledge of the Federalist or Antifederalist Papers knows the key was not the right to vote (e.g., all the references to the tyranny of the majority), but a Constitution that severely circumscribed government’s ability to abuse its citizens. This is why the Supreme Court can override majority votes when they conflict with the Constitution. And if the right to vote were important enough to die for, why has turnout never approached 100 percent?

• It is your duty to vote.” Voting is a citizen’s right — implying the right to abstain — not a duty. I have a right to become drunk, divorced and destitute, but that does not give me the duty to do any of them. And if one is not highly informed on the issues, as is true of most, it would seem that, rather than being a fulfillment of one’s duty, casting an uninformed vote is a dereliction of duty, contributing nothing of value to the electoral results.

• You must vote, because the electoral process would collapse if everyone chose not to vote. Beyond the insignificant probability of everyone abstaining, this is just the common “if everyone” fallacy. Unless your choice of whether to vote alters many others’ choices about whether to and/or how to vote, which is unlikely, this is irrelevant to whether you should vote (though politicians must, because they would not be taken seriously if they abstained, as witnessed by the harassment any candidate gets if he ever failed to vote in previous elections).

Does the fact so many “get out the vote” arguments are invalid imply you shouldn’t vote? No. But if you choose to vote, don’t do so for the invalid reasons above. Vote as a form of cheering for candidates and issues you believe are “right” for “the general welfare,” not as an attempt to transfer others’ wealth to you (which your one electorally insignificant vote cannot accomplish, in any case).

And do not vote on issues you are uninformed about, as there is no gain to you or society from doing so. Since your vote won’t let you pick others’ pockets, vote for what you believe is good for America, not for what you think will take the most from others and put it in your pocket.


Professor of economics

Pepperdine University

Malibu, Calif.

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