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Another election season is in full swing, and with it comes the incessant virtue-signaling of anarchists the world over making a snide mockery of the whole process. While I can often count myself among them, I do have to take issue with the absolutist, hard-line anti-voting stance that proclaims that voting in every case imaginable is both immoral and ineffective. Elections suck, are a giant pain, are low-return for the amount of effort and funding put into them, and are definitely wrong when employed to take away your fellow humans' rights and money. But those who claim that engaging in the activity of voting is invariably wrong and useless are quite misguided. What's more, they may be trying to scam you.
Disclaimer! I won't respond to any comment that ignores the content of this article. If I don't deserve the courtesy of being heard before being shouted at, you don't deserve the courtesy of my attention.
Let me be clear: it isn't my intention to lift up the process of voting. Personally I rarely vote, particularly on the national scale where the options are limited, and believe that there are quite a few other, more efficient methods for making the world a freer and better place. I just don't subscribe to the notion that it's always awful, terrible, and useless, and I believe that dispelling these myths is a necessary first step before outsiders start taking other libertarian ideas seriously. There are many reasons you may not want to vote, including:
You aren't informed enough to maximize your vote
You may not have enough disposable time or means to really study how to make sure your vote counts towards something good as opposed to reinforcing the status quo. That's fine. Don't vote.
There are no good options, even in protest
There may be no good candidate or legislation available with any chance of success that will be a net or complete positive, and no long-shot options fully reflect your convictions. Don't worry, you don't have to vote.
You have better things to be doing with your time
You're busy bringing about a better and freer world in ways that make a far greater impact than you would if you spent that time voting. Hey, please don't vote!
You really don't want to
And, the ultimate reason not to vote: you just don't want to. Life is far too short to spend any of it wasted, and if standing in line at the polls fills your heart with regret, just don't do it.
Make no mistake: governments don't want you to vote. Dictators and oligarchies would be more than happy to simply live off of the hard work and obedience of their subjected populace without requesting their input. The only reason voting mechanisms exist is because regimes need to provide an outlet to simulate self-governance in order to obtain the initial consent of others to be ruled. However, if any such regime gets so lucky as to be able to obtain control *without* giving the right to vote, or manages to phase voting out while still maintaining power, you can rest assured that it will be more than happy to maintain these conditions. Governments fear voting, and do their best to guide their subjects into participating in it in as safe and controlled a manner as possible, with minimal risk of some radical gaining momentum with crazy ideas such as "freedom" and "individualism." The ability to vote is really the least awful part of government, which makes some anarchists singling it out with such aggression a bit bizarre.
Is voting an efficient means of effecting change? Maybe not. Is it as powerful as its more vocal advocates seem to think? No way. But does it do *absolutely nothing?* Also no. While relatively rare, there are still quite a few recent examples of people voting for more freedom and actually getting it. The increasingly widespread legalization (or at least decriminalization) of cannabis in the US is a great example of ways where quite a few people's lives and freedom were dramatically impacted for the better by voting. Another key example has been the increase in firearms ownership freedom across the country, from expanding access to concealed carry licenses to not requiring them at all. In smaller jurisdictions it can become easier to effect positive change through the legislature, for example my own state of New Hampshire's legendary high percentage of radical libertarians in the House, and the resultingeconomicboom from the reforms implemented. The argument that it's not possible (or even in some cases practical) to lessen the size and scope of government through voting simply isn't based in fact.
Additionally, there exists the great paradox by which voting is most efficiently proven to be ineffective by actually voting. A great deal of today's libertarians and anarchists were generated by Ron Paul's two presidential campaigns, both from the effectiveness of the run for office in spreading his message, and in his ultimate failure to capture the Republican nomination. Seeking votes and a position of influence through established "legitimate" means as a candidate for elected office created a much better platform for his ideas than if he had presented himself simply as some random guy who thinks himself important. The eventual collusion of the party and media apparatus to exclude him at every turn ultimately convinced many that the system is rigged and illegitimate, the same now taking place with Tulsi Gabbard as the Democratic Party scrambles to silence her voice. As far as exposing the illegitimacy of the system, few things seem to work as well as voting.
This is really a three-part argument with varying degrees of nuance. The first is that it is immoral to impose your will on others by threat of violence. This I can agree with wholeheartedly, though it doesn't apply specifically to voting, but to the whole institution of government. If you exclusively vote to increase the controls over people's lives that government exerts, that would be immoral. But if you vote to lessen the oppression we all feel from the state, then that would not be immoral, and could indeed be considered the opposite. In fact, if you have it easily within your means to take a small action which may result in the lessening of the burden of government upon your fellow humans, and you choose not to, I would consider that as a dereliction of your moral duty.
Second, a further argument is that voting for freedom is counterproductive as it contributes to the legitimacy of the system. This is true to the extent that engaging voluntarily in an action infers a degree of consent. However, there are many other, more sinister areas in which many of the same people slamming voting choose to participate, including registering (asking permission) to drive and travel, leaving children in public schools, engaging in legal contracts and other services, getting married, and more, yet do not see the logical inconsistency of legitimizing government's involvements in those areas while decrying doing so in another. Also, voting is such an open-ended action that, depending on how you vote, your element of legitimization can be quite minimal. Imagine thinking that voting for a candidate that advocates for abolishing large portions of the government, or for "anarchy," or for Vermin Supreme who wears a boot on his head and promises free ponies for everyone, somehow legitimizes the system.
Finally, some argue that voting is immoral because it constitutes voluntarily participating in an area of government where one does not get arrested or fined for abstaining. There certainly is some logic to this argument, however I challenge you to find anyone who applies it consistently. To argue using moral absolutism terms against voting while arguing in pragmatic terms for participating in other voluntary areas of government is quite silly, and I bet you can't find anyone who believes this who also refuses to use public services and fiat currency while maintaining their income as low as possible in order to minimize their tax contribution. If you can, be sure to salute them for their logical consistency, but have pity on them for the life that leaves them with.
This is actually one of the stronger arguments, but it needs some important qualifications. As outlined above, voting can in some certain special cases have an impact, and therefore literally doing nothing is clearly not a more effective use of time. Particularly when we take into account how little time is actually spent in the process of voting per year, it's hard to make a case for the activity incurring a high opportunity cost. Now, what about when we calculate all the time and energy spent not only in physically voting, but in becoming an educated, informed, and effective voter? Then we actually have a substantial chunk of time and resources to work with, and can make more reasonable comparisons with spending the time doing something else.
In fact, I would actually encourage every principled anarchist to take the "non-voter challenge" of actively pledging to put in the time and effort into other forms of advancing liberty to more than make up for the void left by not participating in voting. This is notoriously much harder than it seems, and involves a degree of self-reflection, hard work, and creativity, certainly a lot more difficult than literally just showing up and checking the "make a difference" box (which, coincidentally, is why most people limit their contribution to a freer world to simply voting). But it's worth a shot.
Now why would I go to all this trouble in expressing a counter-opinion, particularly since I'm not the biggest voting advocate to begin with? To answer that, I'd ask a counter-question: why do so many people who disagree with voting put so much energy and aggression into this particular nuance of an anarchist perspective? Obviously one can't know the individual motivations of every single person acting in this way, but where there's a pattern, you can start to infer some ulterior motives. At the very least I can lay down some key reasons why someone would do something like this.
Definition of a scam
Merriam-Webster defines a scam as "a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation" and the act of scamming people as "to obtain (something, such as money) by a scam". I outlined above the reasons why categorizing voting absolutely as both ineffective and immoral is demonstrably false. Now, what would someone stand to obtain through perpetuating this deception? Well, a few key things come to mind.
Anarcho-pundits make money off of the delusion
As always, whenever something doesn't initially seem to make a lot of sense, it helps to follow the money. When it comes to disposable funds that libertarians have on hand to donate to causes they believe in, the bigger the chunk of the pie that's taken up by campaigns and political action efforts, the less remains for podcasters, authors, bloggers, and other pundits. Now I know there isn't perfect overlap in donor bases between the two categories, but there is still competition, and when deciding between funding doers and talkers, it stands to reason that doers would tend to win out more of the time. What better way to damage the competition than by convincing your customers that it's evil to take their contributions elsewhere?
This also explains quite well why the infrequent activity of voting receives disproportionate attention and shaming compared to all the other various forms of interacting with the state including paying taxes, registering vehicles/businesses/guns, applying for permits and licenses, keeping children in the public education system, and, of course, using government-controlled and mandated currency. Especially that last one. It makes a ton of sense to focus heavily on deriding the one element of government participation that can most directly hurt your bottom line, while remaining conveniently understanding when supporters are only able to contribute via fiat money. Will you say no to my Patreon subscription in order to stay ideologically pure? Yeah, I thought not.
Anarcho-slackers get a convenient excuse
You don't have to monetarily profit from publicly proclaiming your opposition to voting in order to still have strong motivations to do so. You could also simply want to espouse pro-freedom ideas while finding a convenient moral excuse to preclude yourself from the most accessible means of doing something about it. In other words, if you don't vote but very loudly tell people how immoral it is, you can avoid being criticized for not doing anything to further the free society you insist that you desperately want. For bonus points, convince yourself that not voting is actually a form of activism, and that you're actively hastening the demise of the state. Which you aren't. It's pretty low to scam people into giving you a break for being a hypocrite, yet some people do it.
State-employed actors neutralize the opposition
Now we get into full conspiracy territory, and trust me, I'm not assuming anyone (especially anyone in particular) is an enemy agent of sorts. But think about it: if a powerful institution like the state fears a group of people who ideologically oppose its existence, wouldn't it be in their best interests to trick them into doing absolutely nothing about their convictions? Or, in absence of that, wouldn't the state want its detractors to abandon the only "official/legitimate" channel of dissent so that their concerns are more easily ignored? In fact, a regime seeking to remain in power must retain some semblance of legitimacy, and keeping the opposition from being represented in the democratic process (and avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous act of having to steal or manipulate the electoral process) does that quite well. Any good tyrant wrangling with a semi-democratic system should allocate some budget towards funding controlled opposition advocating against voting. I sure would.
Vote. Or don't. However you choose to exert your fullest practical effort towards the reduction and eventual dissolution of the state is none of my business. I'd only encourage you to study how to win, as you owe it to your philosophy. But when you start taking an absolute hard line against voting, my scam alarm bells start to go off.