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November 9, 2016

Politis Forum: To Vote or Not To Vote

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Written by: Politis

download (2)The Editors of Politis asked members of the current blogging team to consider arguments in favor of not voting. We post the contributions of Northeastern University freshman Katharine Welch and Dukakis Center Director David Wisner below. This ends the current cycle of posts dedicated to the 2016 US general election.

“Hearing the arguments,” by Katie Welch

With the election quickly approaching, the American electorate are trying to make last minute decisions on propositions, local officials, and of course the much talked about presidential election. But the American students of ACT have already cast their ballots via vote-by-mail. That is if they plan to cast one at all. Voting is a right awarded to all American citizens.

While some take this as their duty, others don’t participate every four years for various reason. With the craziness of this current election taking over social media and our news outlets, people have strong opinions on whether or not one should vote in this coming election. I surveyed the some of the study abroad students at ACT asking what were the best reasons they have heard on why they should vote and why they should not vote.

When asked about why it is important for one to vote, students gave a variety of answers that ranged from civic duties to ensuring one candidate does not make it to the Oval Office. Many of the students spoke about how every vote counts. While it may not seem like one vote will change the outcome of an election, getting your voice out and letting the government know what you think will help them create policy in the future. Being able to vote is a right that we are given in the United States. But not everyone in the world has this opportunity. Many students believed that as a citizen, it is important that we take advantage of this and perform our civic duty as citizens. One student spoke of the essence of democracy. In order to keep democracy alive in our country, we have to continue to vote. When the electorate loses interest and doesn’t participate in politics, the voice of the people is lost and a few chosen elites make decisions for the entire country. Another student took a different approach. If you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain. There are many problems that plague our country today. But if we don’t use our voice and our right to vote, are we really allowed to complain about it? Moderate students expressed that it is their duty to choose. The  United States is extremely polarized with both parties have introducing far-left or far-right candidates. While the diehard republicans and democrats fight it out, it is up to the moderates  to look at it objectively and make a decision. Other students believe that because of this polarization, it is extremely important to make your voice heard. Many students, though, looked specifically at the candidates. Two unpopular candidates are up for the position of the most powerful person in the United States. Most citizens have strong feelings about these candidates, whether good or bad. Many of the arguments that students have heard revolve around voting for one candidate in order to weed out the other, or the lesser of two evils. Many of the students feel that it is important to vote in order to keep a specific candidate out of office.

On the side of why one should not vote, many of the answers I received revolved around a single vote not making a difference. In a country with 325 million people one vote won’t be heard in the entire scheme of things. Many of these students felt as though it wouldn’t be worth it to put the time in to send their ballot across seas when they feel as though it doesn’t matter. One student spoke specifically about how the voting system took the power away from voters. She explained how the electoral college will vote how they want despite what their constituents say. When there are people above you who do the actual voting and choosing of the president, the votes of the electorate become insignificant. Another student spoke of rigging. As it has been a very popular topic this election season, rigged elections have been on the mind of many voters. In such a large country is can be easy to feel separated from a distant central government. It feels as if they have power that is not always checked and rigging an election is certainly possible and could easily deter voters. Other students look more directly at the candidates running this election. Some stated that they did not like either option and thus did not feel a need to vote. In an election where the majority of the campaigns are based around the lesser of two evils, the question is raised about whether or not one should vote for someone that they do not like or want in office. Another student spoke about their viewpoints and values being represented. If they didn’t feel as if either of candidates are going enforce policies that the voter believed are important or relevant, they didn’t feel as though there was a point to casting a ballot.

Whether or not the study abroad students at ACT decided to vote this election, they have heard a number of arguments about why one should or should not vote this November. With news of this election popping up everywhere, including social media, lunchtime conversations, and classroom discussions, it is certainly on their minds. And whether these students choose to vote, this is elections is certain to be an interesting one.

…/…

“An argument for not voting, briefly,” by David Wisner

Political scientists and democracy theorists generally agree that the baseline for a functional representative democracy is regular elections which are free, fair, and competitive. You would be justified calling into question a regime with single- or dominant party rule (China and and pre-2000 Mexico, respectively), here opposition parties are obstructed from running competitive campaigns (Singapore).

It is true that we get some of this in the United States, particularly in so-called safe districts where incumbents run unopposed. But in fact elections in America have become, if anything, hypercompetitive, to the point that competition masks something else in the American psyche. My impression scrolling down my Facebook news feed was that we live in not one, but two distinct countries.where phrases like “we are taking our country back” are commonplace.

Much is made nowadays about exercising the right to vote. Here is what I think about the matter. In a country as large and diverse as the United States you expect interests to diverge as a matter of course. Either we have the right to differing opinions or we do not. In which case, the right to vote is merely a right to express opinions that may differ from those of your neighbor.

Does it threaten you that an acquaintance likes a different sort of music or roots for another team? Really! Do you trust their judgment in any basic way, say with regard to their raising children that may play with yours growing up?

In a mature democracy where citizens are prepared to defend their neighbor’s rights to have differing interests it should not matter in the long run who is chosen to represent us collectively, as long as this basic right is observed.

To pursue, if I trust the judgment of my neighbor regardless of how much our individual interests diverge I should be prepared to trust their capacity to vote to protect my rights. Do you trust your neighbors.

Ideally, we should not have to vote to obtain a result that protects our basic rights. “I trust your judgment,” you would be saying. Voting would then be a celebration of our right to hold differing opinions.

You might even designate the task of voting to your neighbors in rotating fashion. “Here, you vote, it’s your turn this year.”






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