“f Bernie [Sanders] doesn’t win the primaries, I’m not voting for anyone.” This statement, or a variation thereof can be heard all over the country with the 2016 presidential election just around the corner and Democratic and Republican primaries taking place through June. The majority of U.S. citizens, including many Palo Alto High School seniors, are deciding which candidate to cast their vote for — or alternatively, which candidate not to cast their vote for.
Just like how there are a multitude of reasons behind voting for a specific candidate, there are a multitude of valid reasons that people can have for not voting. Though voters tend to face either support or disdain depending on who they cast their vote for, many people tend to typecast nonvoters as all the same: ignorant citizens who do not care enough about their political system to even check off a box, but then turn around and complain about everything that is wrong with the system the next day. While these voters may deserve some ridicule for complaining about what they actively choose not to participate in, not all nonvoters fall into this category.
Nonvoters face every kind of adverse response, from shunning and head-shaking to losing the respect from the voters of our society. But what everyone seems to forget is that voting, contrary to popular belief, is not a civic duty. It is a right, and people have the right to choose whether or not to cast votes. They should not face such a negative stigma, even if their reasoning behind not checking off a box is not good enough for our liking.
According to Nonvoters in America, a project run by Ellen Shearer, a professor of journalism at Northwestern University, 40 percent of Americans did not vote in the 2012 presidential election. And, although 36 percent of these nonvoters abstained from voting because they just did not have any interest in politics or did not see voting as a priority, the remaining 64 percent of nonvoters cited different reasons for not participating — ones that do not warrant backlash. The project found that 27 percent of nonvoters stated that they did not vote because of their disappointment in the candidates available for election. These people rationally decided that out of the two possible candidates, neither of them was fit to govern our country.
Why should a person face negativity for reasonably deciding that neither of two whole people were good enough to lead an entire nation? If someone truly cannot tolerate either candidate and believes both will bring about the exact same amount of destruction, why should this person cast a vote? Their vote would just end up not representing their beliefs, which is what voting is about — giving the people a chance to voice their beliefs.
Other reasons for not voting ranged from struggling with other aspects of life (monetary problems, work, etc) to not feeling informed enough to being skeptic that their votes counted at all. Again, as citizens of the United States, people have the right to choose whether or not to vote, and do not hold a duty. As long as these people do not complain about the flaws of the system, they have every right to not participate and not suffer under the backlash of righteous voters.
The negative stigma towards nonvoters also works under a false assumption about voters — that voting for a candidate means someone has made a positive contribution to politics. However, if someone uninformed about political issues casts a vote, is he or she doing any good?
According to research done by Pew Research Center, registered voters could answer, on average, 7.2 out of 12 political questions. Though this number is higher than the average for nonvoters (4.9), the statistic is still far from perfect, meaning there are a number of uninformed voters out there who are casting votes in support of someone they do not know enough about.
Their votes do not represent what the people want, because they are voting simply off of name recognition and likeability.
Checking a box does not automatically make one a better political participant than someone who decides to not check a box. Just like how people should not assume voters are all informed political participants, people should not assume nonvoters are all ignorant, lazy hypocrites.