Why I Didn’t (And Don’t) Vote

Folks who know me know I don’t vote. Many roll their eyes at this decision. Others awkwardly skirt around it preferring to avoid asking why I don’t vote (I don’t usually go into why unless prompted). And most people just assume I do vote. Of all my friends and family and coworkers, I’m unsure how many have given a second thought to the act.

Do they simply accept the rhetoric that it’s some moral imperative to vote? That it’s a duty? That it’s a right you must exercise to preserve?

I don’t know.

And here I’m talking about incredibly smart people, which is to say (call me an elitist if you must) that the population at large probably has never given a second thought to the dogma supporting the act of voting. And I’ll just sidebar and say that a huge swath of U.S. citizens actively choose to skip the vote. Why? Are they weak in character? Is it simply not worth their time? I’m sure the reasons are many — my reasons are.

Back to my much smaller network, the reality stands: it’s so much taboo to talk about voting that it usually never gets talked about.

But I just read a great write-up that succinctly captures the main reasons I don’t vote. It’s over at Strike the Root and written by Carl Watner (and was pointed out to me by Patri Friedman via G+) and starts with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, followed by Watner’s main four points on why he chooses not to vote:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it . . . . What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

— On The Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), Henry David Thoreau

[Watner on non-voting]

Truth does not depend upon a majority vote. Two plus two equals four regardless of how many people vote that it equals five.

Individuals have rights which do not depend on the outcome of elections. Majorities of voters cannot vote away the rights of a single individual or groups of individuals.

Voting is implicitly a coercive act because it lends support to a compulsory government.

Voting reinforces the legitimacy of the state because the participation of the voters makes it appear that they approve of their government.

My three year old daughter is already being taught in her daycare about the importance of voting. She admonished me (seriously) for not voting last night. I’m not overly bothered by this and I calmly told her I don’t vote because I don’t like controlling the lives of other people. I asked her if she liked being told what to do but I’m afraid it’s a bit too early for that rebuttal.

When the day comes that I can explain to a more receptive (patient!) ear, I think Watner’s list here may resurface. So it is that I’m keeping it here for future reference.

I don’t vote. I didn’t vote. Why? There are so many reasons and these are but a few.

How many reasons do you really need?

  1. Charlie

    Interesting post. I disagree, but am interested in your stance. I happen to be a libertarian and believe in limited (very limited!) government. And for government to best reflect the will of the governed, I believe we need to participate. I also believe we should be informed in order to participate, and I’m reminded time and time again how pitifully informed our electorate is. That’s a topic for another day though. What I wanted to ask about is this point –

    “Individuals have rights which do not depend on the outcome of elections. Majorities of voters cannot vote away the rights of a single individual or groups of individuals.”

    Though our rights are intrinsic, they are dependent upon the government to respect and defend them. And this does not even open the can of worms of what is or is not a ‘right’. During a recent Facebook ‘debate’ with someone, I was told that my rights are ‘what the government GIVES you’. Truly frightening.

    So my question is, why do you feel rights are not dependent upon elections?

  2. Robert Dallison

    Hi Justin – interesting post.

    If you disagree with the system, then surely it is better to make your voice heard? Go to the polling station and submit an empty or spoiled ballot, voicing your opinion on it in writing if necessary.

    By staying at home, it is too easy for the political system (and the media) to count you among the mass of people who are just too lazy to bother. Surely therefore an active protest is better than a passive one?

    Imagine what would happen if there were more spoiled ballots in an election than the number of votes for the winning candidate – that would surely lead to change, sooner or later. However, if more people stay home than vote for the winning candidate, nobody cares.

    The system has somehow conditioned everybody to see low turnout as “normal”, when in fact it should be seen as a major dysfunction – whether due to the system itself, or to the parties and/or candidates standing.

  3. peter van aken

    You have listed SOMEONE ELSE’S REASONS for not voting, rather than your own.

    While you feel that what has already been written by Carl Watner mirrors your own personal belief, I just feel that you did not show me your own deep convictions and personal opinions. You took an easy way out. NOT VOTING IS EASY. Millions take the easy path very year.

    I vote. I am not enrolled in a specific party. I try and study and make an informed choice. And there are candidates that, especially in major nationwide elections, try to appeal to a limited, sometimes “idealistic”, passionate voting group, that advocates change in very “radical” governing platforms. Whether they could do it or not, whether they have a chance of election or not, I vote. And there is even a space on the ballot for a write-in vote! Opportunity to make a statement!

    I imagine you have always lived in the United State of America- you can do that and not be required to vote, ever- how about that!

    (I just got a birthday present of a pair of Merrells, in August 2013, and I am casually looking up reviews and comments, which lead me to your Blog and your entry on voting.)

    • Justin


      Why do I need to restate in my own words something another has said that illustrates my own opinion so eloquently in order to make it “mine” or to give it some sort of “oomph?”

      Damning my choice as “the easy way out” is a dismissive way to deal with non-voters. Sure it’s “easy” to not go to the polls but if you actively choose not to vote — because you don’t believe in the system — there’s nothing easy about it. In fact, you’re subjecting yourself to all sorts of ridicule from peers, family, and in this case, people you don’t know who come to your website and happen to disagree with you! What’s “easy” about that?

      Finally, I don’t think I’ve ever written a full discourse on why I don’t vote — as I noted in this post, how many reasons do you need? Really, the moral reason is enough: “It’s wrong to coerce my neighbors by ganging up on them (via the majority vote) and forcing them to my own belief system. Therefore, since I wish to do what’s right, I abstain from voting and actively encourage others not to vote — not to gang up on people. I refuse to do it because it’s wrong!”

      Generally, when things are wrong, I don’t do them — what else do I need for a reason not to do something?

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