It is oft repeated (at least in the literature I’ve read and in the circles I inhabit) that voting is a duty. The notion, as I would present it, is that someone is being quite derelict in their behaviour if they fail to vote. This perspective is usually justified on the grounds of the value of democratic participation – one should take an interest and participate in directing one’s country. The judgement, then, is that it is wrong to fail to exercise one’s democratic rights. I wonder though, to a certain degree, how much a negative judgement on the non-voter can be justified. I’m inclined to say that voting is superior to not voting, but I wonder if the importance of the act is possibly being exaggerated out of proper proportions.
What is it that makes voting good? I would describe it thus: voting is an act upon the world to make it more how you think it should be. As I’ve explored previously, I think that acting upon the world thus is both how we act autonomously, and the most that we can ask of anyone who wants to be a good person. Failing to vote is one of many ways that we can fail to exert ourselves on our environment as we think we should. The question, though, is how we should rank our successes and failures. What makes different autonomous actions better, and what makes non-autonomous actions worse?
Following from what I’ve explored in my systems previously, it would follow that people can not truly be blameworthy for failing in autonomy (the person who acts autonomously does as they should, the person who fails does not fit the criterion of an agent whom we can judge). I’m going to set that notion aside for the moment, because it is still under development. For the rest of the conversation, I shall proceed on the basis that that which differentiates our actions needs to be fairly consequential, and that action or inaction should be judged on our own perspective of the importance of that action. In other words, my crime for not acting is greater based on the good I perceive myself to not be enacting. This seems to be a reasonable extension of my moral structure – since the most you can ask of someone is that they do what they think is right, they are more wrong the less that they do what they think is right. This could also easily be thought of in utilitarian terms, which at least some of you will probably find more palatable.
On this basis, it seems to me that not voting does not sit that high on the totem poll of wrongs. The impact of any one person not voting, I think its fair to say, is negligible. Indeed, I can easily imagine acts that at least seem to have greater moral worth that take a comparable amount of time to researching candidates and voting.
Let me know what you think,
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