What About Virginia?

I read that thing on not voting.

What did you think?

Meh.

It raised issues for you?

Yes. For instance, what about the senate race in Virginia? It was won by about 17,000 votes. That’s not a lot of votes.

Sounds like a lot of votes.

Well, it’s not in a state the size of Virginia. And what about the Maryland gubernatorial race? In the weeks leading up to the election the eventual loser was leading in all the polls, in some by double digits. So maybe what happened is that people who supported the leader in the polls took that advice in the article…

It was not meant as “advice.”

…took that advice to stay home, thereby allowing the other candidate to win. Isn’t that a great argument in favor of voting? Every vote really does count?

The article did not argue that one should never vote. If there is a close race with candidates with clearly different views on issues that matter.…

Yeah, but the article implied that if a race looked already sewn up that voting doesn’t matter. Well this race looked decided according to the polls, but, as they say, there is only one poll that matters. And the result was very different when the votes were counted.

You cannot say with any kind of certainty that the reason the loser lost (after being ahead in the polls) is that only those people who supported the eventual loser decided to stay home because of their candidate’s lead in the polls. It is entirely possible that the eventual winner (despite being behind in the polls in the run-up to the election) made a big advertisement push, or that the polls seemed to concern those people who supported the eventual winner and so motivated them to make sure they voted. There could be a number of reasons for the outcome.

Okay, what if the race would have been won by exactly one vote?

Then if I voted for the person down by one, there’d have to be a run-off (after what I’m sure would be very, very expensive additional vote counting, law suits, etc.). If, on the other hand, I had voted for the person up by one, that person would’ve won by two.

So there’s just no reason to vote?

I did not and have not said that. I am just trying to get us to look at what is going on with voting in all its complexity. So, for instance, I am also asking whether in the Maryland or the Virginia race or any other, whether there is a real difference between the candidates. If, to give another example, you voted for Obama because you didn’t like Bush’s war mongering, you had to be sorely disappointed. There turned out not to have been a dime’s bit of difference between them in the real world.

You’re making me not want to vote.

Well, that’s not my intention. I hope what I’m making you do is to think a lot more about voting than you probably do. You might still vote (even if I don’t). And in the future I might vote in some election in which you don’t. What I’m opposed to is mindlessness in voting (and non-voting, for that matter).

I just heard a guy on the radio say that in his “political manifesto,” he’d make it mandatory that people vote.

Fascist!

Be serious!

Okay, the argument that it be mandatory to vote (but not, evidently, mandatory that the voter be educated, that the candidates be clear on their positions, that the dissemination of views not be skewed by money, and so on), is that if everybody participated we might have a different looking country. The guy implies that he thinks it is solely a moral failing on the part of non-voters (the lazy bastards!). But is that accurate? Is there a real, legitimate, justifiable reason that people have for not voting? I think there is. I think a large part of the electorate has those reasons. I do not think it is the case that those who vote are more informed and more civic minded than those who don’t. The non-voters’ engagement with their communities might take a much different and, in the current conditions, much more effective form.

I heard that two-thirds of the electorate did not vote on Tuesday.

Yes. And my point is that that must be concerning to all of us, but we ought not to jump to the conclusion that non-voters are just lazy, that voters are more informed than non-voters, that voting must be made mandatory, etc. It is a sign of disease among the citizenry, but the patriotic scolds have almost certainly misdiagnosed it.

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