By Jonathon Mecomber
We’ve all heard it: “Voting is your civic duty.” This is not only false, but it is also a dangerous idea. In 2015, Barack Obama told the City Club of Cleveland that America should consider mandatory voting. He said, “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.” Admittedly, this actually did seem like a good point to me at first. If everyone voted, then corrupt politicians and big business donors would have to listen to us, right? Wrong. Although I do believe that Obama was coming from a place of good intentions, there are big problems with this argument: mandatory voting changes nothing about how well-informed said voters are, and may actually encourage manipulation by certain interests if the people know they have no other choice than to vote.
The proponents of voter turnout will try to pedal their favorite slogans: “Get out and vote! Voting matters! Exercise your rights!” Spoiler alert: this is nothing more than a power grab mostly on behalf of the Democrats, but occasionally on behalf of the Republicans as well. The Democrats don’t actually care about your right to vote. They care about encouraging younger voters to turn up on election day as they are more likely to vote Democrat. It’s one of the reasons Brindisi swung this district; college kids registered in Broome County put him above Claudia Tenney 55-45%. But the Republicans are far from innocent. The so-called “voter ID laws” which are present in a handful of Republican controlled states are seen as an effort to keep the most likely Democratic voters (racial minorities and the urban poor) from getting access to the polls. Georgia’s GOP has also closed polling places and purged voter records ahead of the midterms, according to the Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman. Both parties are guilty and should be ashamed.
As of the writing of this article, the City Council of Washington D.C. is preparing to vote on a bill that would lower the voting age to 16 for city residents. Yes, that’s right: sixteen. And what was their defense? According to U.S. News, councilman Charles Allen said that the bill would “enfranchise the District’s young people and bring their voices into the political process.” You know what I believed when I was 16? I genuinely believed that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were right and that Communism was the future.
In my high school history class, we would have ‘mock elections’ to see who our classes (composed mostly of 16 year olds) would elect. The results — unsurprisingly — were almost always strongly in favor of the Democratic candidate. Though there are exceptions, 16 year olds either don’t know or don’t care about politics at all. Even if they did care about politics, children are likely to align with the views of their parents. This is supported by a Gallup poll from 2005 which found that 71% of the teens surveyed believed that their political and social views were “about the same” as their parents.
Another common defense for voting is the belief that it will preserve our democracy. False. One hundred percent, undeniably false. Many authoritarian regimes of both past and present mandated voting in order to appear legitimate. Granted, these are often not proper “free and fair elections,” but the point remains. Voting, in and of itself, is not an adequate barrier to totalitarianism. Rather, voting has been and continues to be used as a tool by repressive governments.
This brings me to my argument that ballots should include a “none of the above.” As it stands now, voting only shows us for certain how many of the electorate desired that particular candidate. It does not show us in any way how many didn’t desire that candidate. For example, if I was someone that lived upstate (i.e. above Westchester) and I hated Andrew Cuomo but didn’t think any of the other candidates were adequate replacements, this “none of the above” option serves both as an approval rating and a sign that I went to do my civic duty with even more of an opinion than someone that votes down the party line or falls for the manipulative attack ads played incessantly before an election.
If you haven’t researched the candidates enough to know which one aligns with your views, then the best thing that you can possibly do is to not vote. It’s also entirely fine to leave portions of your ballot blank. You are under no obligation to cast a vote for each position. Voting in and of itself is not a civic duty; educated, informed voting is. That responsibility lies not with a corporation or politician or “get out and vote” campaign, but with you.