Midterm elections take place tomorrow and it’s around this time of the political cycle where we witness a bevy of propaganda aimed at various political goals. Some of this propaganda is aimed towards the support of specific candidates or ballot initiatives, while others simply push a generic “Get out the Vote!” message, without any specific reasons for doing so given.
Those who travel in libertarian circles (i.e. social media newsfeeds), are also likely to be met with propaganda of a different message, that being “DON’T VOTE!!!!” There are various reasons given for this blanket proclamation, among them:
“Voting is a tool of the State, and to participate validates the system.”
“Voting is aggression.”
“If voting were effective, they’d make it illegal.”
“Voting is irrational because a vote is mathematically insignificant.”
“The system is rigged.”
It should first be recognized that there exist elements of truth in these statements. It is true that many politicians will use the cover of “the will of the people” in order to justify the imposition of rights-infringing policies upon those who have not consented to them. It is true that voting can indeed be considered aggression under certain circumstances, such as when one is specifically and knowingly voting for a policy that will violate the rights of others, or for politicians who have pledged to do so. It is true that a single vote has a very small impact in relation to the thousands or millions of other votes cast in any given election. It’s also true that many aspects of “the system” are indeed rigged, which can prove frustrating for those who attempt to honestly navigate it. Third parties in particular are often locked out of debates or even out of elections all together, leaving many people with no option for certain offices outside of the standard Republican-Democrat pallet, which indeed tends to represent the corporate-fascist state more than it does the average citizen.
Considering all of this, it’s not surprising how many could easily become jaded, and open to propaganda calling for the rejection of the very concept of voting per se. But the anti-voting rationale does not hold up to scrutiny, and this is particularly the case when it comes to libertarians and liberty-minded folks – people who sense that something is deeply wrong with “the system” and have become invested in doing something about it. Libertarians don’t always agree on just what that “something” is, but it cannot be denied that in many cases voting is at least one of those somethings.
Last year, the states of Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana. This is a position that any libertarian – indeed, any rational person – should fully support. And how did this change in the law – one that will have a significant, positive effect on the individual liberty of many – come to pass? It’s quite simple: people went out in large enough amounts to vote for it!
This one example alone should be enough to prove that voting, per se, should not be discouraged, particularly among those who do have a much better conception of individual rights than the majority of the population. Even when a specific measure doesn’t pass, a significant expression of public support can signal to politicians that a certain policy may be worth pursuing.
Does this mean all libertarians should vote in every election, in every circumstance? No. I myself didn’t vote in the last election, due to a lack of candidates who represented a freedom alternative on my ballot, and due to a lack of ballot measures which I felt would have any sort of impact on individual liberty. Tomorrow, however, I will indeed go to the polls in my adopted state of California, specifically in order to vote for “Prop 47”, which will reduce many non-violent drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. If this were to pass, many people now in jail for non-violent crimes would be re-sentenced and be able to leave jail early. Many people currently in the system would face no jail time at all and would no longer be threatened with such. And perhaps most importantly for many, the reclassification to a misdemeanor will allow them to maintain their 2nd amendment rights to defend themselves via firearm, a right which anyone with the “felon” label no longer enjoys.
What argument could be made by libertarians to abstain from weighing in on such a measure? Even if “one vote” is insignificant, it is still “one vote”. 1+1 still equals 2, last time I checked. Every vote adds up, and the more votes that are left to those with no regard for the individual rights of others, the greater we can rest assured that the rights violations will continue.
While there may be cases where voter fraud has occurred and where those in power are clearly corrupt, which of the following seems like a better solution? 1) Ignore the fraud and corruption, thereby allowing it continue unabated, or 2) Become an active participant, and confront the fraud and corruption head on. This seems like a no-brainer.
It’s true that in our current political paradigm, we are often faced with nothing more than a false choice between two candidates effectively representing the same thing. The population at large will need to become much more informed and accepting of the concept of individual rights before more such options are available on most ballots. “Democracy” – where the rights of others are simply left to the whims of a majority – is a system worthy of criticism, particularly when it is forced upon others. But freedom-loving individuals should at the very least recognize a vote as a tool, and just like any other tool, there are appropriate times where it can be used to advance liberty.
I see no other conceivable strategy for the achievement of liberty than political action. Religious or philosophical conversion of each man and woman is simply not going to work; that strategy ignores the problem of power, the fact that millions of people have a vested interest in statism and are not likely to give it up. …Education in liberty is of course vital, but it is not enough; action must also be taken to roll back the State, specifically to repeal State laws, like price control or the withholding tax. Or even like marijuana laws.
Little did Murray know how correct he’d be re: marijuana laws, which he seemed to see as the least likely of the possibilities listed to be repealed. And yet here we are, in an age where over half of states have legalized marijuana on some level.
Election time is when more people than ever are tuned in and open to political discussion. Libertarians would be wise to use this time of year to promote a greater interest in politics, particularly among like-minded individuals. Encouraging apathy only invites more tyranny, more rights-infringements, and harms the prospects for greater individual liberty for all.