In defense of choosing not to vote

The political conventions are overwith, and the last remaining challengers have been vanquished. Faced with the most unappealing choice of presidential candidates in my lifetime, I’ve pondered a question that I suspect many are contemplating but few acknowledge, outside of intimate circles.

Is not voting ever an acceptable option? This is a difficult question, particularly for someone in a profession such as the law, like me. From the time I was first eligible, voting was always a matter of pride for me, a patriotic duty I took seriously unless I had some excuse like a family crisis. But for the first time, I am seriously contemplating staying home on election day.

There’s a sort of stigma and shame associated with failing to exercise your right to vote. Many believe it’s lazy, irresponsible, even un-American. (The saying goes, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” I no longer buy that.)

I look at it another way. I’ve considered not voting as a conscious method of registering protest. Protest against two candidates I find wholly unacceptable and unfit for the presidency for different reasons. Is this really the best America can do? But also a protest against the farce that the process of electing a president has become.

It’s easy to get turned off by the presidential election circus. For me a large part of it is the electoral college system and the seeming pointlessness in voting unless you live in a swing state. Candidates no longer even bother campaigning in most “red” or “blue” states.

Part of it is disgust with the role that money plays in electing a president. The money spent by both parties to win the White House could feed a small nation for a year.

Then there’s the ever-increasing length of the election cycle. Presidential campaigns now last half as long as an entire presidential term. As soon as politicians win an office they begin running for their next office, instead of just serving in the office we elect them to. (And don’t even get me started on the commercials, it’s why the mute button on the remote was invented.)

I realize what I propose is offensive to some. I’m familiar with all the arguments. People fought for our right to vote, and women especially. True, but people also fought for the right to gay marriage; it doesn’t mean that gay people are required to get married. Yes, I know people in places like North Korea don’t have a say in their government, and I feel sorry for the people in North Korea. But I don’t feel like I owe it to them to vote.

I also know people will say: Vote for one of the third-party or independent candidates on the ballot. I’ve done that before. It’s a throwaway vote and essentially a vote for the frontrunner. The person I vote for has to have a realistic chance of winning. For me, voting has to be more than a symbolic exercise. There has to be a point to voting. I decided that I’m no longer going to go to the polls just to vote for the candidate I dislike the least. I’m not going to vote just for the sake of exercising the right.

I still haven’t made up my mind what I’m going to do in November. I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts. I suspect most people who do vote in this election will be doing so to vote against someone. Maybe if there was an option on the ballot for “None of the Above.” I have a hunch NOTA would probably have a good chance of becoming our next president.

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