The freedom to not vote

With every presidential election comes all sorts of pressure to vote, to read up on the candidates and to discuss politics in situations you normally wouldn’t. I tend to avoid discussing politics for most of the normal reasons and for a reason I figure most people will take exception to: I choose to not vote.

Several reasons led to this decision. First, the freedom that this country provides is not actually freedom if I am forced to vote. Freedom is the ability to choose if I want to do something or not, not being forced to  choose between a few candidates. Some countries impose fines if people don’t vote. Is that freedom?

Voting United States

Second, I am often fine with the choices. Since I have the freedom to choose to vote or not to, during any election or because of any given circumstances I can choose to vote. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Third, and the kicker for me personally, my (at this moment theoretical) professions lend themselves to not voting to maintain objectivity.

At one point I was a journalist at a major local news outlet, I’m trained to be a pastor and someday hope to be a professor. The first two jobs lend themselves easily to not voting and the third could go either way. (If I teach math it’s hard to argue I need to stay objective.)

Many in this country argue, and some on the grounds of Christianity, that voting is a civic duty. I disagree. I think participating in civic activity is a duty but freedom says that different members of society can participate in ways they choose themselves. This does not mean choosing ignorance. Everyone needs to be aware and participate where and how they can but that does not mean necessarily voting.

Journalists try to cover all their topics, and elections especially, with objectivity. Often this works. Some stories are easy to report with ‘just the facts’ such as the actual vote tallies in an election. Nowadays it takes quite a bit of time to sift through the facts about a candidate because not only is so much true information available online but tons of false information is put out by well-intentioned but ignorant people or by people purposely trying to disparage a candidate.

When I worked as a journalist it struck me as odd how someone would be writing an article or headline about a candidate under the guise of objectivity but at the same time bashing said candidate out loud to me. While people who know the craft of journalism well can still write a reasonably objective piece, I do not believe for one second making the decision of who to vote for so they can vote doesn’t taint their view.

This is why some journalists, like former executive editor of The Washington Post Leonard Downie, Jr., decided not to vote. In an online chat he says, “I decided to stop voting when I became the ultimate gatekeeper for what is published in the newspaper. I wanted to keep a completely open mind about everything we covered and not make a decision, even in my own mind or the privacy of the voting booth, about who should be president or mayor, for example.”

Any time you force yourself to make a decision it necessarily eliminates some objectivity. Even mature and humble people that are good at listening to all sides of a debate will still in the end think their side is correct, or else they would change sides.

As a side note, this comes into play with Christianity, too. Christians are not objective about their religion. Neither are Atheists. Both sides have made a choice and will therefore paint their views in light of that decision. Agnostics are the ones that have some objectivity.

What if we as a culture supported a whole segment of society not to vote? Namely journalists, professors, pastors and the such — the segment of society we let influence our views? What if we knew that they were not telling us who to vote for because they themselves had made a decision to vote for that candidate or new law? What if we could look at a website full of information on the election and not have to wonder if the owners really have an agenda? What if the civic duty allowed to us by freedom was not forced voting but that we participate in meaningful and knowledgeable ways in elections?

It seems that would help increase tremendously the amount of people feeling like they had the knowledge and resources to make an educated decision. Another author on this blog just hit on this issue in her post “I feel ambiguous about voting.”
I think many people feel the way she does. Many feel forced into voting because of their civic or Christian duty. Please be aware that’s not freedom!

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