today on tpq, my dirty little secret:

here it is:  i’m not really a voter, i’ve just been passing as one.

i mean, i regard myself as a reasonable person (i guess maybe that doesn’t mean very much since a large number of people probably regard themselves as reasonable, huh?), but i know in the eyes of many i have just lost all credibility.  i want to clarify at the beginning that i have no agenda here except to explain why i do not vote in the hopes of helping others understand some of the reasons someone who cares very much about political and social issues might make this choice.  i am not looking to convert anyone to any political party or set of beliefs, and many people i respect very much vote (such as my partner and the esteemed owner of this very blog).

voting (or, more accurately, voting for the president) has come to be viewed as the ultimate act of citizen agency and participation.  it is also commonly viewed as the responsibility or duty of a citizen.  (that is why it is so easy to pass as a voter, it is just assumed)!  one of my coworkers once told me that she does not care about politics and usually doesn’t have strong feelings about any candidate, but on election day she shows up and votes because then she has “done her part.”  it seems that people might disagree with who you vote for, but as long as you vote you are considered a better citizen than anyone who does not; regardless of their reasons for not doing so.  it doesn’t matter what you do in the years in between or if you know anything about the candidates or if you have to leave behind issues you care about, just as long as you show up and “participate” on that one day that matters.  in Bad for Democracy author dana nelson questions this idea of voting as participation:

As the political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg has observed in his book Consequences of Consent, historically elections have worked to train and to ‘limit mass political involvement by prescribing conditions for acceptable participation in political life.’  Without denying their democratizing aspects, we could think about how elections also work to contract some democratic freedoms, not least of which is our democratic imagination for political action and expression outside the vote.

because of this limited nature of voting, it is confusing to me that my coworker who goes in a booth and votes for every name with a certain color attached to it gets more credit for “participating” than i do.  is it really worse for me not to vote because i don’t believe in any of the options than if i just showed up and randomly voted?  people say all the time “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain.”  seriously?  so because i didn’t believe any candidate was capable of doing the job, i can’t complain if it becomes clear that the one who gained office actually wasn’t?  i don’t go around telling my friends who vote: this would never have happened if you didn’t vote.

of course, you aren’t really off the hook if you vote either.  even though people seem to view the vote as the ultimate right and expression of political free will they don’t seem to have any qualms about telling you what you should do with yours.  recently, while eating dinner with some of my partner’s family and their friends my partner’s brother told her that the state of our country was “her fault for voting for nader.”  i’m not joking and neither was he.  she defended herself by saying she voted for who she wanted to vote for.  the brother said something like “yeah, and look where it got us.”

so, the point of voting seems to be voting against one candidate or ticket (out of fear? or so you can justify attacking other people’s choices later?), not to vote for who you believe will do a good job or speaks to issues you care about or who you believe to be sincere?  but, i admit, i was surprised to hear that my sweet and caring partner would doom the country she lives in as well as many others just to spitefully vote for any random person who wasn’t a noble and sincere democrat.   i mean okay, i know one side is worse than the other, really.  but i can’t bring myself to vote for people based on the fact that they are “less bad”.  that doesn’t really mean a whole lot.  how can the last 4 and/or 8 years possibly be my partner’s fault?  or nader’s?  i think there are a few vastly more appropriate places that blame should rest.

however, my not voting seems to really bother some people who i care about, so i have said in the past (putting aside any feelings i have about whether votes even matter), that if someone came along i really felt strongly about and ran for any office i was eligible to vote for, i would do it.  i am pretty sure that this is the year i will register to vote and, as long as my state allows write-ins, i will vote for president (that’s right, don’t get your hopes up i’m not voting for obama).  i think he is a much much better option than the other choice, but his watered-down christian values anti-queer stuff scares the crap out of me too.  since my guy probably won’t, i do hope obama wins.  but i don’t like him enough to vote for him and i shouldn’t have to.  hey, on the plus side, at least now maybe i won’t have to fight feelings of stupidity and shame when i hear the sarcastic and condescending tones of celebrities like jennifer aniston and ashton kutcher on that “don’t vote” video.

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Comments
One Response to “today on tpq, my dirty little secret:”
  1. This is a great post, GQ. I had no idea you didn’t vote – which means passing as a voter for you is easy even among friends.

    I do agree with what you’re saying here. I voted for Nader in 2000, and felt that same guilt people are trying to force your partner to feel. What shame… worse than being queer and un-american, voting outside of the traditional two-party system also makes us un-american.

    There are also twelve bazillion ways to be a good citizen, and not one of them requires voting in a Presidential election… the burden of being American and considered one by the mainstream grows larger and heavier every day George Bush is in office… Being a responsible independent thinker makes people un-american now… and that’s a sad price to pay for limited liberties.

    TPQ

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