"Aren't you glad Obama won the last Presidential election?" McNulty asked me after the 2008 election.
As glad as a Sardine can be without believing who gets elected president makes much of a difference.
"He'll definitely make a difference. He already has."
You mean that his plan has worked?
"Of course. Just like FDR's New Deal."
You're sounding a bit enthusiastic, McNulty.
It then dawned on the Sardine. McNulty voted. A charter member of the League of Non-Voters voted.
"I had to."
Why didn't you call me? That's why we have each other's phone numbers. I could have talked you down. Once you vote, you can never be a non-voter.
"I had to make sure the Republicans would lose."
That's the kind of thinking I could have brought you back from. You live in a State that decisively went for Obama. Your vote wasn't needed. It wasn't needed in any states within 500 miles of us.
McNulty was silent. And the Sardine said no more, seeing how his friend regretted indulging himself for the alleged safety of the nation. His future on the League's Board of Directors would be in doubt.
"Not now," says McNulty. "You didn't have to make an article over my one lapse. I thought we could keep this between us."
Sorry about that.
I brought up the election not so much about the result but the dispiriting phenomenon of more people voting. The ranks of unofficial non-voters—those not members of the League—are declining. We cannot do anything when a candidate himself draws more people to the polls. Besides, the luster will wear off and the non-voting ranks will get filled again.
It must be reiterated. The League of Non-Voters does not spend its time or money trying to convince people not to vote. If you belong to the Republican and Democratic Party organizations, we expect you to get as many people as possible to the polls to vote mechanically for your candidate. And to all of the members of small parties, like the Green and Libertarian advocates, we would not tell you that your vote is wasted.
We are against (or, how would you say, "fed up with" or "nauseous over" or "have feelings of contempt for") campaigns to get people to vote. The public service messages. The celebrity driven messages nudging theoretically latent democratic consciences.
Beneath these efforts lies the belief that democracy works (better, more authentically, whatever) when more votes are cast and that the process of electing officials somehow cleanses itself when the "people's voice" is heard loudly and clearly as if "loud" and "clear" are synonymous.
Forget about reasons for voting. They're spurious and usually compounded after the choice of candidate has clicked in our heads. Two close encounters of the Sardine voting occurred first, in 1996, he had heard Ralph Nader claim that he never watched television. I was so impressed by this near monk-state of living that I nearly gave up an important aspect of my life to reaffirm Nader's slim political existence. The second was in 2004 when I saw Wesley Clark on television. I liked what he said. It seemed spontaneous and well thought out. More importantly, I liked his tie. Fortunately, Clark never sounded as spontaneous or interesting again.
Further, we flatly contest the notion that having more people vote is desirable and efficacious for democracy. The crowd might exercise its right to vote without much thought, but the League cannot abide having the professional consciences of society thoughtlessly harangue those who do not vote to join the herd so they will have a voice to be heard.
Rock the vote, hell. Why in Democracy's name must we roust dormant if not inertial minds to contribute their opinion as to who should make public policy? Campaigns to appeal to video game enthusiasts through video game figures inspire little confidence that, no matter who wins, the next U.S. President will spring from intelligent choices. Jay Leno routinely proves in his "on the street interviews" that regular Americans are pitifully ignorant of current events and history. The public cannot name the Supreme Court judges nor members of the Cabinet. Political campaigns are geared to deceive voters and, thus, those who are being asked to vote are ill-equipped to deal with the deceivers.
People should have easy access to voting but not feel compelled to vote. The intelligent choice re: THE VOTE has nothing to do with finding a compelling reason to vote for one of the candidates, but whether you feel competent enough to vote. Then follow your conscience if you think voting matters.
We should educate people less about exercising their rights on election day and more about sharpening their competence to do it. Campaigns to get out the vote reveal less a devotion to democracy that to the power of numbers. Voting becomes the ultimate "poll" or Nielsen rating. Do we believe more readers of a book make a book better or legitimate literature? Is it an accident that many of the greatest movies, like Citizen Kane, Rules of the Game, and Vertigo, were rejected by the public, including the critics? And that the top grossing pictures are exercises in mediocrity (if you believe Lord of the Rings was even remotely great literature or the Lord films great movies, then you qualify for the type who wants people to vote and you should not be reading this article)? If you want to nullify a work of art's quality, recommend it to one million ignoramuses (Oprah Book Club members can feel offended—but the Sardine cannot forgive her for tainting Garcia Marquez a few years ago). Does better literature come from the quantity of readers? The highest percentage of eligible voters in American history voting in elections occurred in the 1870s and 1880s when elections were close and corruption was synonymous with elected officials. New voting franchises have given us Grant, Harding, and Nixon's second term. We are not saying that voters could have prevented the ensuing corruption; increased political participation simply bears no relation to better government.
Don't vote if you have little feeling for the issues and the candidates. The Republic will make it without you having to raise your voice to be heard. Here's a thought. Choose the right or best time to be heard. When a strong third party movement arises. Or when the campaigns become less about selling a product. Or when you feel competent to repel the propaganda from your favorite candidates.
And even then, you should hesitate.
Bob Castle is the unveiled author of A Sardine on Vacation. Check out his bio page.
"Vote doesn't count?" There's a non-issue. Voting for Cynthia McKinney in the state of Texas was about the most fun I had that month.