Are you morally obligated to vote?
A few questions I have had for those who claim that it is your moral obligation to vote in the upcoming presidential election are these:
Do you vote in every election that you are eligible to vote in? Every one? Are you even aware of all of them? I’m not. Alderman, city council, dogcatcher? If not, do you feel the need to repent when you fail to vote in any election you are eligible to vote in? Do you scold or chastise friends, relatives, and neighbors who do not? Even if you don’t, do you believe that you or they have sinned or failed to live up to your/their moral duty?
If the answer to any of these is no, then what is the criteria upon which it is claimed that one has a particular moral duty to vote in this election, or, more generally, in the national presidential and congressional elections that come up every four years? On what grounds is there a moral imperative to vote in these elections that does not hold for each and every election that one could potentially vote in?
And, to add a bit of fuel to the fire, let’s remember that one’s vote for president is arguably the single vote that you can cast in the United States political system that has the least consequence. For one thing, there are simply more total votes in this election, making yours a smaller slice of the pie. Further, the electoral system means that if you are in a solidly red or blue state your vote will simply not count in the final analysis, period.
But more than that, many of the other votes you can cast, including the ones for alderman or city council will likely have a much more direct impact on your life than your vote for president. Your vote in those local elections, combined with watercooler discussion and maybe a sign in your yard could at least theoretically have a measurable impact on the outcome of an election for someone that will make decisions that directly impact your day to day life (zoning, fireworks, local taxes, police numbers, etc). I’m not saying this will necessarily be the case, but it is far more conceivable than the idea that your vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama (or even a third party candidate) will have any noticeable effect on either your life or that of those you care about.
I’m not advocating abstention here. In fact, I intend to vote in the presidential election (although largely because there are so many other issues on the ballot that I am more interested in voting on). I also think there are good reasons to vote in the presidential election if you can do so in good conscience My point is that the attempt to make such voting a moral imperative and even to shame people into voting are misguided and uncalled for at best, and in many cases appear to me to be rather hypocritical. It seems arbitrary to pick certain elections that one feels strongly about and suggest that it is a moral duty to participate in them, while not voting in, and perhaps not even being aware of, numerous other elections that have a less high profile status.
Finally, and just because it is a personal pet peeve, I cannot abide the claim that so many have suffered and died so that I could vote, thus now I am obligated to. No, some have suffered and died to give me the right to vote or not. That’s why it’s called freedom. They suffered and died for freedom, including the freedom to protest a corrupt system by refusing to give it the consent of the governed. I’m not necessarily saying we’re there just now. I’m saying that it is a category mistake to claim that they suffered and died so that I must vote. If anything they suffered and died so that I may vote. But further, and tragically, some of them suffered and died because our corrupt system sent them into unjust, undeclared, and unconstitutional wars, where they were used as cannon fodder to support political machinations. So they are not martyrs for my freedom, but rather martyrs to the egomaniacs that control this country at the highest levels of government and use them to advance political interests.