The case for voting even when you don’t want to

Don’t complain, vote!

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About 63% of Americans express not much or no confidence at all in the future of the U.S. political system, according to Pew Research Center. Only about 66% of the voting-eligible population turned out for the 2020 presidential election. Just 45% of registered voters in Colorado cast a ballot in the presidential primary.

This lack of interest does not bode well for 2024. There are lots of excuses for not voting.

We vote to maintain a civilization which is based on a system of governance known as democracy. So let’s dismantle those excuses, one by one.

Busy schedule: Some individuals may claim they are too busy to become informed and vote because of work, family or other commitments. Maintenance of a representative democracy takes time. Be thankful that we do not have a direct democracy where every citizen needs to be an expert on every issue. To efficiently research issues and candidates, forget social media. Select curated, unbiased sources of information such as PBS New Hour, The New York Times, Denver Post, and League of Women Voters. Look for corroboration among reliable sources to verify information.

Lack of interest: Some, especially young people, feel disengaged from the political process or believe their vote won’t make a difference. While your vote will most likely not be decisive, your political engagement and action contribute to a civil society. You can’t be agnostic about voting, because your non-vote is a vote for the status quo.

Distrust in the system: Individuals may express a lack of trust in the political system, making the fashionable excuse that their vote won’t be properly counted because the system is rigged. Most people with this delusion, in spite of what they say, know that our system of elections works accurately and that there is an insignificant amount of fraud.

Disillusionment: Some people might be disgusted with the available candidates or political parties, feeling that none represent their values or address their concerns adequately. Even though you may not like any of the choices and are not motivated to vote at all, we must act for the common good by choosing the best of the bad alternatives. Situations can always be worse.

Perceived difficulty: A few non-voters may find the voting process confusing or challenging, especially if they are not familiar with the registration and voting procedures. These problems are not insurmountable but require some effort the first time around. Thereafter, in Colorado, the process could not be easier with our vote by mail system.

Cynicism: A general sense of cynicism about the effectiveness of government and politicians can discourage some from participating in the electoral process. Consider the alternatives.

Unless you think we should return to a “state of nature” with no government, some form of government is necessary. We are obliged to use our personal agency to optimize the government that we have now with the selection process that we have available now. To be cynical without trying to make the government better by voting is to drift toward authoritarianism.

Protest non-voting: Some individuals choose not to vote as a form of protest or as a statement against the perceived shortcomings of the political system. This is a waste of a voting opportunity and an approval of the status quo. Be realistic and choose the least objectionable alternative.

Even if you are busy, lack interest and are disgusted with politics, there are many indirect benefits to voting that can make a positive difference.

We are taught in civics class that voting is a normative moral good. When we vote, we enhance our social status with a claim to a moral virtue. We grant ourselves permission to identify as a free, civilized, patriotic citizen.

It is said that the best form of leadership is by example. Voting sets an example for others, especially young people. It encourages them to register, become informed and vote, fulfilling a civic duty and the responsibility that comes with being an American citizen. Avoid the shame of being a free rider.

Voting produces a sense of solidarity on issues and candidates which starts at the individual level. Solidarity helps to achieve positive change leading to a higher likelihood of success on issues over time. By voting, individuals contribute by example to a collective effort to bring about the changes they want to see in their society.

Voting honors the sacrifices made by those who fought for the right to participate in the democratic process. Voting affirms a privilege that many around the world do not have. We set an example for the rest of the world — good and bad. 

Voting fulfills a civic duty to maintain our imperfect form of government, social civility and your quality of life. You will be able to say that you did the best you can for your country, the definition of patriotism.

Researching and understanding issues and positions of candidates provides knowledge which is useful in other daily decisions. Thinking about governance helps to solidify personal values. This civic effort may determine your actions on a wide variety of local community issues.

Remember, bad things happen when good people do nothing. Don’t complain: Vote.

The Colorado Presidential Primary election (Super Tuesday) is Tuesday, March 5, 2024; ballots have already been mailed. All other Colorado primary elections are Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The national general election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024.

Richard Kiefer has lived in Boulder since 1970 and is a big believer in civil conversations.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.