Of course, aggregates of voters may swing an election by voting one way or the other or by not voting. But you, amigo, are not an aggregate of voters; you have only one vote. And how you cast that one vote will almost certainly fail to swing any large election. Why this simple reality flies over so many people’s heads is a bit of a mystery (various explanations may be offered), but if you don’t understand it, you really need to stop and think harder about the matter. Saying that “your vote doesn’t matter” is not the same as saying that “voting doesn’t matter,” although the latter may also be true in a different sense (e.g., elections are only rituals, and the deeper system will persist regardless of electoral outcomes).
DBx: A few hours ago at the Detroit airport a bubbly young woman struck up a conversation with me as we both waited in line to buy coffee. “Where’s your ‘I Voted’ sticker?!” she asked with great enthusiasm as she pointed to the one she sported. “I don’t vote,” I told her. She literally looked as though I confessed to being afflicted with necrophilia.
“This makes me so sad. So sad. Why don’t you vote?,” she pressed, with a tone that revealed that she truly felt pity for me. I really wasn’t interested in having such a discussion then and there with this stranger, but she kept asking. So I eventually answered: “I don’t wish to legitimize politics by participating in its formal ceremonies.”
“But elections aren’t ceremonies; they matter!!!” Her verbally expressed exclamation points grew in number.
I replied that I agree that elections do indeed determine which individuals hold political power. But this fact for me is irrelevant, for two reasons. The first is that even if I did (which I don’t) strongly prefer one group of candidates over another group, because the prospect of my vote swinging an election one way or another is practically zero, I would waste my time if I voted. And my time is valuable. I refuse to waste it on futile activities such as voting.
Second and more importantly, I detest politics and all but a tiny handful of politicians. And so by voting in an election I would play along with the dangerous romantic myth that insists that “leaders” who are chosen democratically thereby legitimately gain the right to order me and other peaceful individuals about. Election winners certainly do gain the power to order me and other peaceful individuals about, but I’ll be damned if I believe that they are ethically entitled to do so. I obey their commands for the same reason that I would hand my wallet and car keys to a thug who presses a knife to my throat.
I’d gotten into the spirit of the conversation and ended by telling her that, while I do not judge her for feeling elevated and proud of herself for having voted, were I to vote I would feel compromised, unprincipled, grimy, and ashamed of myself.
The young woman, of course, wasn’t close to understanding where I was coming from. She was, as you can imagine, horrified. If she’s religious, she likely, as she walked away with her coffee, whispered a few prayers for my soul.