By ZEYNAB DAY
Special projects editor
Why should someone be expected to vote for the candidate who they dislike the least?
I asked myself on Election Day, as I uploaded a photo of my tiny “I Voted” sticker to Facebook. I wondered why I felt compelled to rush between classes to make it to the polls—when there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to vote for.
It’s like walking into an ice cream shop that only has chocolate and vanilla on the menu, but really wanting strawberry.
In the current system, where options are usually limited to choosing between a Democrat or a Republican, people are left with limited choices when voting. The local shoe store offers a dozens of brands of sneakers. On any given day it’s a guarantee that there’s a couple arguing over where to eat dinner, given the multitude restaurants. But when it comes to voting, there’s generally only two options and in local elections there may be only one name on the ballot. In a country where a variety of choices are a part of everyday life, voting option are not in the mix.
Slogans like: “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice” or the celebrity favorite “vote or die” perpetuates the idea that abstaining from voting somehow strips citizens of their rights.
Does pressuring individuals to vote really reflect the values of a democracy? Just because someone chooses not to vote doesn’t mean they don’t care. A low voter turnout can actually act as a form of protest or expression. It could illustrate that voters are not motivated by current candidates and issues being raised. Or it could also indicate that some issues of importance to the majority are not being addressed and thus individuals have no incentive to show up to the polls.
Not to undermine all the people that fought for equal voting rights for citizens of the United States but the choice to participate, or not participate, in voting is also a right.
Scholars have debated whether compulsory (mandatory) voting would be viable in the United States. More than 20 countries throughout the world, including Australia and Belgium, have compulsory voting laws. Compulsory voting could lead to more uninformed and impulse votes. Although it has also been argued that compulsory voting might motivate more citizens to educate themselves on current issues and candidates.
It is true that local, state and federal laws effect American citizens and it’s important to stay informed. Yet, it’s hard to stay informed today when the only exposure to candidates are presented in the form of mud-slinging campaign ads.
In the shadow of SuperPACs (a recent law that allows corporations, unions and individuals to donate anonymously) it is hard to know who might be bankrolling any particular candidate. It’s not a stretch to think that such donors would have an impact on the candidate’s platform and agenda. These new policies make it harder for a voter to know if a candidate represents their political values and given the binary option can mean slim-pickings for voters.
Even when there’s more than two options the public is only aware of the Democratic and Republican candidates. In Kentucky’s recent Senatorial election between candidates Allison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell there was a third candidate on the ballot, David Patterson.
Libertarian candidate Patterson was not slated to appear at Kentucky Educational Television’s senatorial debate. KET argued Patterson did not have enough support to be a viable candidate and had a requirement that candidates raise $100,000 to be included in the debate. Patterson challenged KET’s decision in court but the judge ruled in favor of KET based on a previous U.S Supreme Court Ruling stating that broadcasters can exclude candidates based on the level of support. This argument carries weight when there are a large number of candidates on the ballot but in this instance it excluded the only other candidate on the ballot.
It’s easy to see why people may opt not to vote in system with limited options and information. So, why should someone like me race to randomly fill in boxes? Wouldn’t it be much more efficient, and just as effective, to draw names out of a hat.
Next election season, if I find myself wondering why I have to choose the candidate I dislike most, I will exercise my right and choose not to vote.