In a Democratic Society, Legally Cast Votes are Not Unethical – Even When You Disagree With the Reasons Behind Them
Surprisingly (to me, anyway), I got a fair amount of pushback from my post on the signed Loyalty Oath that the Virginia GOP now requires in order to vote in its primary. This pushback came in one of two arguments: that non-GOP voters are ruining/may ruin Virginia’s primary, and that strategic voting for someone not in your party is unethical.
The first argument is, to my mind, a bit silly. Unless I am missing something, this argument states that organized groups of non-Republican voters (the Occupiers and the Black Panthers were the two that were mentioned) will swoop in to nominate an unelectable GOP presidential candidate, thus ensuring an electoral college victory for Obama come November. Now, could some group of Occupiers/Panthers really be planning on doing such a thing? I would certainly think so. It seems the type of meaningless hair that those overly earnest about party politics occasionally get up their butt. But if so, then… what? I was unable to find by the google the number of Republicans in Virginia. However, as a swing state with a population of over seven million it seems safe to assume there are at least three million. As I said in the comments section of my post, if a few hundred (or thousand) merry prankster votes are in a position to completely torpedo the Virginia GOP, the Virginia GOP has much, much bigger problems than those merry pranksters. Tom Van Dyke hit the nail more accurately than anyone, I think, when he noted that the loyalty oath was entirely legal – and that paying too much attention to said pranksters was entirely stupid.
The more compelling pushback came from those that called such strategic voting unethical. Those pushing back on ethical grounds were all over the map politically. There were certainly those knee-jerk righties that I am sure were OK with Limbaugh’s similar strategy three years ago, but there were also libertarians and people I consider more liberal that took this stance. I understand the temptation to think of this type of voting as “unethical,” and tend to think that way myself at first blush. But it isn’t, and thinking it so is a trap. Because the act of casting a legal ballot, for whatever reason, is not unethical. The insistence by those in power that voting is something you have the right to do – but only so long as you vote the way they wish you to – is.
In our society, we as a people are sovereign. Since I was a kid, I have visualized our sovereignty as tiny little silver boxes that each of us owns. Every couple of years, someone comes to us and asks to borrow our silver box for two, four or six years.
Usually we do so with the hope that they will look after our tiny silver box, and use them in our best interests. But they are still our tiny silver boxes. We do not owe our boxes to those that look to borrow them. And when we reach the point where we feel we don’t own our tiny silver boxes – where we feel that they really belong to those that have been borrowing them, and for us to use our boxes in ways that they would not approve is a breach of ethics toward them? At that moment we have abdicated our sovereignty and with it our most trusted responsibility.
To make the obligatory George R.R. Martin reference: When we let political parties dictate to us which candidate is and isn’t proper to vote for we have become King Robert, sitting fat, lazy and unaware on our throne.
A political party – any political party – exists for no other purpose than to borrow our power for its own purpose and enrichment. That a political party’s interests might overlap with our own should not be mistaken for a sign that it is us who are indebted to it.
Personally, I feel that the practice of strategic voting in a primary is pointless and childish – and at the end of the day exists for no other reason than to allow those that practice it to feel very clever about themselves, and those fight it to advertise themselves as martyrs. But I don’t find it any more pointless and childish than those that vote for candidates that promise lower taxes without decreasing government-based benefits. Or people that vote for candidates that tell you the reason you have worked in the foundry for the past 20 years and never went to law school is affirmative action. Or people that vote for candidates because they hate hippies. Or whatever. People vote the way they do for all kinds of reasons, good and bad. It doesn’t mean that they are being unethical.
A common complaint from the threads about the ethics of strategic voting is that it is “manipulative” and “self-serving.” And of course it is. Almost all voting is; manipulation and self-serving are the very definition of voting in a democratic society. I have clients that make well over seven figures annually, and in 2012 they will no doubt be voting for people they feel will push part of the burden of financing governmental services to those that make less money. There will be low-skilled employees of theirs that make less than $20,000 that will vote the opposite for the same reasons. All of them – all of us – use elections to manipulate the system in ways that serve us, our interests and our visions.
It appears on this issue I am in a pretty small minority. And I find this very, very sad. If we have really gotten to the point where most of us – left-wing, right-wing and libertarians alike – agree that we are ethically bound to vote for the reasons political parties wish and tell us to, then we have truly lost our way.