Here in California, we’re just hours away from voting.
Tomorrow morning, Californians will trek to their polling places to choose between the lesser of two evils on the ballot (among a bunch of other genuinely interesting propositions and officials). This Election Day is far more concerning than the past two – to be honest, I think Obama had it in the bag both times.
Finally forced to care about an election, apathetic Americans across the country will choose between two equally unqualified and unprofessional individuals to have access to our country’s nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, I’ve chosen to be uninterested and uninvolved with national politics and will be paying the price for this for the next four years. You too? Great, we can mourn together.
Regardless of our impending doom, something else has been bothering me these past few days. I’ve seen an excessive amount of “GO VOTE!” messages on social media. Mark Zuckerberg (yes, Facebook CEO and all-around annoying ‘good guy’) announced yesterday that “more than 2 million people have registered to vote by going through Facebook, some for the first time, according to estimates based on available data.” While I appreciate that we live in a hyper-connected universe where I can buy canoes at 3:00 AM on Amazon or send gifs of alpacas falling in to pools to my friends faster than I could call them to talk about it, is it really such a wonderful thing that voter registration spiked in sixteen states due to Facebook?
If you didn’t feel compelled to vote before Mark Zuckerberg told you too, should you really vote?
I used to verbally attack my friends who admitted to not showing up on Election Day. “OUR ANCESTORS WENT TO WAR SO THAT YOU COULD VOTE!” I’d yell angrily. “WOMEN HAVE ONLY BEEN ABLE TO VOTE FOR 96 YEARS AND YOU’RE ALREADY OVER IT?!”
I used to think that exercising your right to not vote was lazy, unpatriotic, ungrateful, and all-around a repulsive thing to do. I worked the election my senior year in high school (I was a few months short of being old enough to vote) and I have voted in every single election since then. I am PROUD to be an American. I do my research, I show up, I vote, I get my sticker, and then I get my free coffee at Starbucks.
Sure, it’s a little bit of work, but I like it. I like knowing that I was somewhat responsible for whatever horrors await me.
There are people who will vote tomorrow who have no idea that there is anything on the ballot other than candidates for President…and it’s likely that they could not explain their choice for either candidate much further than “Emails!” or “Racism!” or “Grab her by the pussy!”
Back to my topic, however. Should everyone vote? To answer this, I’ll need to step off my soapbox for a moment. I’m going to quote a man named Mike Rowe, whose eloquent words on the matter were introduced to me by Jordan Harbinger on the Art of Charm podcast (which is one of my favorites).
I was going to edit some of this out to make it shorter, but honestly, every bit of it is gold. After receiving a letter from a follower who asked him to encourage Americans to get out and vote, he wrote this response.
“I also share your concern for our country, and agree wholeheartedly that every vote counts. However, I’m afraid I can’t encourage millions of people whom I’ve never met to just run out and cast a ballot, simply because they have the right to vote. That would be like encouraging everyone to buy an AR-15, simply because they have the right to bear arms. I would need to know a few things about them before offering that kind of encouragement. For instance, do they know how to care for a weapon? Can they afford the cost of the weapon? Do they have a history of violence? Are they mentally stable? In short, are they responsible citizens?
Casting a ballot is not so different. It’s an important right that we all share, and one that impacts our society in dramatic fashion. But it’s one thing to respect and acknowledge our collective rights, and quite another thing to affirmatively encourage people I’ve never met to exercise them. And yet, my friends in Hollywood do that very thing, and they’re at it again.
Every four years, celebrities and movie stars look earnestly into the camera and tell the country to “get out and vote.” They tell us it’s our “most important civic duty,” and they speak as if the very act of casting a ballot is more important than the outcome of the election. This strikes me as somewhat hysterical. Does anyone actually believe that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ed Norton would encourage the “masses” to vote, if they believed the “masses” would elect Donald Trump?
Regardless of their political agenda, my celebrity pals are fundamentally mistaken about our “civic duty” to vote. There is simply no such thing. Voting is a right, not a duty, and not a moral obligation. Like all rights, the right to vote comes with some responsibilities, but let’s face it – the bar is not set very high. If you believe aliens from another planet walk among us, you are welcome at the polls. If you believe the world is flat, and the moon landing was completely staged, you are invited to cast a ballot. Astrologists, racists, ghost-hunters, sexists, and people who rely upon a Magic 8 Ball to determine their daily wardrobe are all allowed to participate. In fact, and to your point, they’re encouraged.
The undeniable reality is this: our right to vote does not require any understanding of current events, or any awareness of how our government works. So, when a celebrity reminds the country that “everybody’s vote counts,” they are absolutely correct. But when they tell us that “everybody in the country should get out there and vote,” regardless of what they think or believe, I gotta wonder what they’re smoking.
Look at our current candidates. No one appears to like either one of them. Their approval ratings are at record lows. It’s not about who you like more, it’s about who you hate less. Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest – Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect?
So no – I can’t personally encourage everyone in the country to run out and vote. I wouldn’t do it, even if I thought it would benefit my personal choice. Because the truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process. So if you really want me to say something political, how about this – read more.
Spend a few hours every week studying American history, human nature, and economic theory. Start with “Economics in One Lesson.” Then try Keynes. Then Hayek. Then Marx. Then Hegel. Develop a worldview that you can articulate as well as defend. Test your theory with people who disagree with you. Debate. Argue. Adjust your philosophy as necessary. Then, when the next election comes around, cast a vote for the candidate whose worldview seems most in line with your own.
Or, don’t. None of the freedoms spelled out in our Constitution were put there so people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty brought on by a celebrity guilt-trip. The right to assemble, to protest, to speak freely – these rights were included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible.
Remember – there’s nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting, and the next time someone tells you otherwise, do me a favor – ask them who they’re voting for. Then tell them you’re voting for their opponent. Then, see if they’ll give you a ride to the polls.
In the meantime, dig into “Economics in One Lesson,” by Henry Hazlitt. It sounds like a snooze but it really is a page turner, and you can download it for free.
– Mike Rowe
So should everyone vote? In my opinion, no. I’ve included all links I’ve mentioned, in case you wanted to check them out for yourself. If you decide that you do want to vote, I’ve included some relatively non-partisan references to help you make sense of what will be on your ballot tomorrow.
Please remember, however, that everything you read on the internet has bias. Everything you hear on the news has bias. Your neighbor, your mom, your best friend, your barista…It’s up to you to hear both sides and form an opinion for yourself.
Cheers to democracy, to America, and to you, for reading this far.
Where to find voter information:
Quick Reference Voter Guide (California)
Rock the Vote (California, but you can search for your state)
New York Times Guide to Voting (includes which states allow selfies, which is apparently a relevant topic this election season)
BONUS: If you Google “Where do I vote?”, Google will show you your polling place. Just in case your voter reference guide got lost in the mail (or your parents stole yours because they think you’re a socialist).