Voting, understood

Seth Godin recently wrote a post on how voting is misunderstood by the masses. He says if you’re disgusted by the politics, by the advertisements, by the politicians, that you should vote. That the plan of the political TV advertising is to get us not to vote.


I heartily disagree. I seriously doubt there is an actual plan to get people not to vote.

Perhaps the politicians are not the winners in the advertising race, but I don’t think that means the politicians would rather have less people voting. There’s no benefit for them in such a result.

However, one thing I do agree with Seth on is that “It doesn’t make you responsible for the outcome”. But, isn’t that what we want? And isn’t it wrong to have authority without responsibility or vice-versa?

When someone has authority to make decisions yet believe they should take no responsibility for the impact of those decisions, we put those people in jail after they break the law. Conversely, having responsibility with no authority makes for a disgustingly irate individual who is responsible for an outcome they can’t control. Both of these cases are wrong.

In voting, we have a few problems.

We believe we have the authority to put someone into office who can do what we want. I believe it’s not really “power” (as some people call it) if we can’t also remove the person if they’re not performing up to the standard they won the election on (promises). If we vote someone in, and they fail us while having no consequences for doing so (ie, we don’t have the responsibility for the outcome), what’s the point of the vote in the first place? And who cares if they don’t last another term. They have a full four years (in most cases) to screw up as much as they want.

And if that’s the case, why vote anyway?

People lie, cheat and steal. We have consequences for those people. When I don’t fulfill an obligation to a client, I have a fiduciary connection to them, so I probably owe them money. When someone steals from you, we put those people in jail.

But, when we put our trust in someone to reflect what we believe (or at least do what they said they’d do while on the campaign trail), and they don’t do it, even though we’re paying them to do so, there’s no consequences. None.

So, why should I vote again?

Should I believe that I have a duty to someone to do so? No. It’s not constitutional to force me to vote.

Should I believe that putting the least “evil” into power is better than the only alternative, which is not to vote at all? No. There is no power in giving someone else power when they have no accountability for their actions.

Should I believe that simply because it’s “free [and] fairly fast” that I should do it? Of course not. There are plenty of things I could do that are free and fairly fast which I should not do.

And should I vote so that I get the “right” to complain? Nope, I get the freedom to complain all I want, regardless of whether I participated in a system which seems fundamentally broken and ineffective. That, friend, is protected by my constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The system isn’t hijacked when people don’t vote. It’s hijacked when people don’t do what the voters asked for. It’s hijacked when there’s no accountability, no repercussions, no consequences, no law for a reduction in ethics upon which our country and fabric of society is built on. The reciprocity effect is broken in (federal) politics.

That’s why I don’t vote.

And I believe, it’s one big reason which explains why many voters are disenfranchised with the process as well. The media was pivotal in showing exactly how and when politicians did things they said they wouldn’t, and didn’t do things they said they would. If I’m not responsible for the outcome, how can you blame me for not voting at all? I have just as much of an effect on the outcome as those who voted. None.

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

8 Comments on "Voting, understood"

  1. TinyVK says:

    Someone told me that in one So. American Country (Brazil, or ARGENTINA MAYBE) that voting is more than a privileged, it is required by law. That if you do not vote then you paid higher taxes or were charged a fee or something.

    This is a great idea. Everyone would know what everyone else wanted and you would have to live with it or leave the country.

    What do you think?


    • nate says:

      If that were the case, I’d be more than happy to vote if it actually made a difference. Our system is so screwed up that we don’t really have an impact. So, if the country who forces their citizens to vote is also just doing it to give people a false sense of power, I’d be against it. If, however, they actually could make changes on a federal level, I’d be for it. The point isn’t really the voting… it’s really the facade that we have been given to think that we have power when we really don’t.

      Great comment/question by the way. :)

    • Nate Ritter says:

      Tiny, I understand the desire to get people to vote. It can be an honest and honorable intention. But what if that vote meant nothing? Would you still want that kind of law?

      That’s my point. If the system is broken, don’t participate in it.

  2. Dian Ryan says:

    Well you have actually a point there, but what if everybody will not vote. Whose going to lead? I think it is the conscience of the person/voters and his faith and trust to God that these politician will be at least lesser evil (LOL) compared to the past leaders.

  3. Joel says:

    When I was in college in Hawaii in 1999 I took some sort of political science class and most of the student were of a mixed racial ethnicity. We got onto the topic of having a minority president and almost unanimously the class felt that was an impossibility in our culture. Well here we are with a mixed race president and that was not by chance. Whether you like him or not he was elected by the people who took advantage of their vote. Change does and can happen when people are ready to make a change. Politicians will always try and please their constituents and will keep changing their positions/views as often as the voters do.

  4. Scotty says:

    Great post. I spent a lot of time in this space, and my conclusion is that the flaw in voting is the system itself.. you must essentially vote between a very small number of candidates (usually 2) or else you “waste” your vote. The good news is, there is one incredibly easy, yet incredibly powerful change we could make to our system that would radically restore the power of voting: IRV. Please read.

    • Nate Ritter says:

      Scotty, I agree that part (probably a large part) of the problem is the 2-party vote. There’s no way that 2 people can represent 100% of the population’s desires. Having more options is definitely a key to fixing it, but it’s not the only issue at hand.

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