Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Right to Not Vote

(I think this post will be controversial, but what are blogs for if not to share ideas? When I told my mom I was going to write about this, she wanted me to let you know that she acknowledges she failed as a parent. I think she succeeded, since I can think for myself! :)

This is the week where most likely you are going to see a lot of posts about how it's your duty to vote. And I want to make as clear as possible that I love that we have the right to vote. It is absolutely, without doubt, an amazing privilege and freedom.

I know that real blood was shed to make that right available to us.

But as powerfully as I believe that I also believe that we have in equal measure the right to abstain from voting.

The freedom to vote gives us the freedom, also, to not vote.

I know people...smart, conscientous, compassionate, and socially aware people who will not vote by going to a ballot box. They will not vote because it is their deep conviction not to. For many reasons. For some, because there are too many conflicting moral issues, and they are unable in good conscience to cast a vote either way. For others, because they believe by voting they are acting against their deep felt feelings of faith.

Agree or disagree, I think it's glorious that they have that right to choose not to vote.

Four years ago, I found myself unable to know how to vote. I was despairing and I talked it over with a friend from the UK. "I don't even know if I can vote," I said, "and still sleep at night." At first he was shocked, but then he looked at me and said "well that's what a democracy** is all about isn't it? If neither of the candidates has inspired your trust than they've failed. It's your right to not vote."

That was a life-changing moment for me. I have always felt like everyone should vote, it's instilled in us from a young age in America that we should vote. The idea of not voting makes me feel sick with guilt. Yet, I have claimed it before on small issues I thought of little significance...why not the large issues, that get lots of press? People who don't vote are often portrayed as lazy or apathetic...but I know that's simply not true. There are many reasons one might not vote. Some people I respect immensely do not vote.

I did vote four years ago, but I haven't voted since. Today will be the end of a voting fast in which I examined why I vote and the role it plays in my life. I thought about how much faith I put in the political process and how much faith I put in my God. I examined my motives...(being motivated by guilt hardly seems a good reason to do anything.) And I'm ready to vote again.

The thing about freedom is that it has to be for everyone in order for it to be worth anything. Freedom of speech means I have to put up with hearing things I disagree with, even things that I hate. Freedom of worship means if someone wants to worship Big Bird or not worship at all, they have every right. The freedom to vote means that if someone chooses not to...that right is protected. So while I think it's great to encourage people to take an active part in the voting process (and we should it encourage it for smaller elections, too) I will speak up for the right of those who choose not to vote according to conscience. At the end of the day, we can only answer to our consciences. And the freedom to be able to act according to conscience is a beautiful thing indeed.

**I have been reminded several times this week that we are not actually a democracy, but a republic. These were his words, though, so I chose to keep them intact.


Deena Peterson said...

I love you no matter what, and I hear you:-)

Paulette said...

Amy--I'm sure you'll get a lot of flak for this post. But what I really appreciate about your post is that it states that people have a right to CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSE not to vote, for whatever reason, which is a far different thing than not voting solely from laziness or apathy--which to me is a very significant distinction.

Krista said...

Why would you get flak? I think it was right on!
This would be my only reason not to vote "For some, because there are too many conflicting moral issues, and they are unable in good conscience to cast a vote either way."
I almost came to that point this election. But then decided that this was too big of an election to bow out and I just needed to be more informed.

Thomas said...

Thank you for this great post.


Ali said...

I wouldn't want us to require people to vote, so in that sense I agree with you. But I'm glad you're voting today (even though I suspect you're not voting for my guy!). In a world where so many citizens don't have a voice in the leadership of their government, I feel like it's important to exercise that right. Sometimes that may mean writing a name on the ballot, or choosing the least of two bad candidates. Not the case for me today, and I'm grateful for that.

Thanks for a thoughtful post, I enjoyed reading it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reminder that voting isn't about choosing something we can't support in good conscience but about intelligently choosing whether or not we can support it by voting or in some cases by not voting.

More often than not I too struggle with who or how do I vote if at all and many times I have been so fed up with both major candidates and unable to support an alternative candidate for some of the very reasons you mention. I avoid the media for the most part and throw away most ads that come in the mail because I am tired of the negative campaigns that really tell me nothing constructive anyway I'd rather not hear or see it at all.

Again thank you for a timely reminder and the validation that not voting is as much a matter of choice and having our say as voting for a certain person or bill is. I'm sure there are some who avoid voting instead of making the decisions but like you and I there are also probably many who make an intentional choice not to vote for a variety of reasons.


Anonymous said...

Yay! At last I can leave my comment! (smile)

Amy, totally agree with you. I actually posted a piece on my blog a while back titled, "Sorry, I Just Can't Vote for Either One." It sucks in a way, but I can't in good conscience cast a vote for someone just because he/she is the "lesser of two evils" in my opinion. And I don’t respond favorably to the “patriotic duty” guilt trip. Baloney. I hope I don't lose any readers over these statements, but good lord - why does it always seem come election season my choices are "Hey- would you like to get hit over the head with a hammer, or would you prefer a mallet?" Everyone knows (well millions do) we’re being lied to by both parties, just being told what we want to hear, getting our fill of false promises, being cajoled into pleasant little sheep following one herd or the other. And in spite of that, I hear so many folks saying, “Well, in the end I really had to get behind the mallet. I really did.” Sheesh.

Personally I'd like to see a "none of the above" choice on the ballot. Let us Americans vote NO for all of the above. We could collectively stand up for truth and honesty and integrity in our political leadership and just say, "Sorry - nope - not good enough. Throw all these offerings out and give us some REAL choices."

Alexis Jacobs said...

I applaud you for following your conscious.

Wendi said...

I enjoyed your post - you are right - Voting is a right, not a duty. I would rather see people vote who understand what is at stake, and what the parties plan to do if/when they win, thus not leaving our leadership to chance.

:) Wendi

caite said...

{{good I saved that post..}}
I actually agree with you. But with a slightly different spin.

That is, if someone has no interest in voting, I am just as happy if they don't vote. There are people I know that don't follow politics at all, they don't pay attention to the issues or the candidates and if they were 'forced' to vote what would they base it on? Someone's haircut or whether they liked the color of their eyes? Eeeek! Personally, I would as soon have them stay home then.
I think they are wrong and not being responsible citizens...and yes, I do think it is a responsibility as a citizen. If someone has a real moral issue with the candidates or the issues..then fine. But otherwise...well, deep down, I do wish that everyone cared enough to do it right, to be informed.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite quotes: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." I actually got a lump in my throat voting today thinking about what Women's Sufferage fought for so many years ago...

I for one consider voting both a privilege and a duty...

Sandra said...

Very thought-provoking. I enjoyed reading your post, and the comments.

texasinafrica said...

Great point, Amy. I do think that voting is a very important responsibility, but I definitely respect your right to choose not to participate.

Did you see Derek Webb's essay on this topic?

Corey Wilde said...

I confess that I have, rarely, not voted in certain political races as I could not in good conscience lend support to the candidates involved. That was before the age of the Internet though. With the Internet I have been able to easily compare voting records, to read the candidates' own words, in full - no sound bites, on the issues, and evaluate their characters without the white noise of political ads. In fact, I believed in 2000 and still believe that if every American had read and understood Dick Cheney's Congressional voting record that he would never have been permitted anywhere near the Oval Office.

If you feel you have done due diligence on the candidates and issues, and still feel unable to vote, I respect that. Despite the inroads made on our liberties these last seven years, you still have that right. It's like the old saw about disagreeing with what one says but defending to the death one's right to say it -- one also has the right, and it must be defended just as ferociously, NOT to say it.

Anonymous said...

When I was in graduate school, I "abstained" from voting because I just hated it all. Since then, I've improved my voting record, even when it's been difficult to decide.

I both agree and disagree with you. I do believe that people need to make their own decisions and we are a free country. But, voting is one way to make a statement. Even if they don't vote for one of the mainstream people, they are still making a statement.

I have a lot of trouble voting most years. My family is very opinionated and I often disagree. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to just not vote.

Amy said...

Thanks for all your comments! I'm glad most of you understood what I was saying. There are countries with compulsory voting and it just makes me grateful for that little extra measure of freedom that we have.

I didn't want to get into it in the post but there are people with religious convictions (not just Christians) that participating in government is wrong, and I think that it's great that we have a country that protects their right to feel that way.

As I said, freedom really does mean being okay with others using the same freedoms you enjoy in a way you wouldn't choose for yourself.

Amy said...

Kristen...I commented on your post, but wanted to say here as well that choosing not to vote b/c it violates your conscience is not the same thing as being merely being ignorant. In fact, if it violates your conscience to vote, you are probably more informed than most voters, having looked for any way possible to vote.

kristen said...

Hi again! I figured the Jefferson quote might raise some hackles :)

I would never advocate someone voting against their conscience -- but why not write in a candidate?

There is always a way to vote your conscience... :) I just think silence can be dangerous, especially in a democracy/republic...

Great debate!!

Anonymous said...

"but there are people with religious convictions (not just Christians) that participating in government is wrong"

I was confused about this statement in your post as well as your comment, as I've never heard of peoples' religions being against voting for your country. What religions are these? What's the specific rule/conviction?

This is a thought-provoking post, and it's difficult to say whether I agree or disagree with it. I've voted in the two elections that I've been able to (2004 and 2008) because I did feel that it's my civic duty and also because I didn't want Republicans in office (2004- did NOT want Bush in office; 2008- did not want Palin in office, plus Obama's just awesome). I don't think that I'd ever feel guilty about not voting, but it's something that I want to do. It makes me feel involved and important, crucial to our nation's future and everything.

Amy said...

Book Chic...well I think not feeling guilty about not voting but doing it because you want to is a very healthy attitude!

I don't think the Amish vote and I think that Jehovah Witness's also might not vote (but this is going on info from a student) The primary reason is the belief that the Kingdom they belong to and the power they answer to is higher than government and to vote is a form of idolatry.

This becomes very complicated, but the truth is...they still have that right.

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