Melanie Kruvelis: Fuck the non-voter?

By Melanie Kruvelis, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published October 24, 2012

In 2008, P. Diddy gave the American people two choices: You can either vote in the presidential election, or, to quote the Geto Boys, you can “die, motherfucker, die.”

In all fairness, these options did stand the test of time. Fast forward four years. On Nov. 6, you may choose to vote. You may also choose to die. But the list doesn’t have to end there. You could vote or go to the grocery store. Vote or watch “Full House” reruns.

And here’s an overlooked option: you could vote, or you could not vote at all.

Now, be careful with the last option. Side effects of not voting include a loss of respect from friends and family, exclusion from the right to political opinions and being pelted with vegetables each time you leave your house. All conventional wisdom holds that non-voters are the political stoners. They sit around, smoke drugs, plot the destruction of America through electoral non-participation and roll up another traitor doobie. Or at the very least, they’re too damn lazy to care.

But does that fairly summarize the non-voter? That the only thing stopping their ballot is the lure of a loveseat?

While it’s certainly true that some non-voters don’t care, writing off all non-participants as being so Cheech and wrong misses the point. Our masturbatory attitude to the voting process and absolute disgust with those who don’t show up on Election Day, masks flaws in a nonsensical electoral system.

For every death threat handed out to the non-voters there's a high five for the guy who threw his ballot in the box. At the root of this is an elementary understanding of elections: voting good, not voting bad. And at the root is a serious misunderstanding of reality. Going to the polls can be good, but it doesn’t have to be. Elections are a fair-weather field day.

Think of it this way: you go to the polls, fill in a bubble for president and then you get a sticker that tells the world — look, I did it! I voted! Then you go about your way.

But, wait. Does non-participation in and ignorance toward sections of the ballot — school board elections or county sheriff — make you a less-valid voter? Popular opinion doesn’t seem to think so. When you avoid the court of appeals candidates on the ballot because “they don’t affect you” or you don’t know enough to make an informed decision, no one accuses you of being a bad voter or a bad American. So why do we draw the same conclusions for the presidential vote?

Pro-voting voters will tell you the distinction comes from the international implications of the presidency. It’s a globalized globe out there, or something. And foreign perception of the United States won’t come from whatever your district judge is doing. No, it comes from the face that we sell to the world — iPods. I mean iPresidents.

Dammit, I mean presidents. Look, the president is the star of the show. So suck up your hemp seed and Chomsky smoothies, you radical, and just go vote already.

Okay, fine. Let’s look at the candidates then. We’ve got Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who wouldn’t know a uterus from a kumquat, so that’s no good. And then there’s the Obama administration, whose off-the-record drone attacks in Pakistan have not only killed civilians, but also further fostered anti-American sentiments worldwide.

Then there are the third-party candidates — no wait, it’s a trap! Because in a post-2000 election world, a vote for a third-party candidate is written off as a “wasted” vote, the good-for-nothing, teenage angst vote. Never mind that you’re just picking the candidate that you think best represents your vision for the country. This is an election, for Christ’s sake, you two-party pooper. Quit trying to Nader the election.

So what do we have left? An illusion of choice. We’re told we have to vote. We’re given a list of candidates. Now take off more than half of them, because they don’t count. And circle your favorite out of the two left. See? Don’t you feel like a good citizen now?

I don’t mean to bastardize all voters. If you follow policy and think you know your candidate, then by all means, vote away. But this “fuck the non-voter” rhetoric works under the assumption that voting is the perfect form of political participation. And it’s not.

Hell, it’s not even the most effective. The success of the civil rights movement is rarely attributed to Malcolm X’s vote for JFK. It worked because the leaders got creative with their politics. There wasn’t a reliance on the least-warmongering, least-corrupt, least-shitty leader to get the work done. This D.I.Y. understanding of politics illustrates an important point: Participation isn’t only valid within the franchise.

If only someone put that on a sticker.

Melanie Kruvelis can be reached at melkruv@umich.edu.