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Stop telling people to vote (jwz.org)
50 points by fogus on Nov 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

I take a diametrically opposed viewpoint to this. Everyone should be required to vote. In Australia, among other nations, if you don't vote you pay a fine. Voting in the U.S. should be as mandatory as jury duty, if not more so.

When you are required to do something, and when all of your peers, family, and friends are required to do the same thing, it generates a much greater discussion around it.

There's this view in the US that voting is a right, not a privilege. When you treat something as non-valuable, then its much easier to take that thing away. Thinking of something as a privilege like borrowing your parents' car when you're young or having the freedom to worship your religion of choice or not makes it much more valuable to you. (Yes, I know that freedom of religion is a right. Don't be pedantic and quibble. People treat the issue like a privilege, whether its a Constitutional right or not.)

In the US, the right to bear arms is considered sacred by many. While its referred to as a 'right', millions of Americans treat it like a privilege. When someone threatens to take that away, people are rather vocal about protecting it.

So you're right, I won't tell you to vote. But I will do everything in my power to force you to vote, and to care about what you're being required to do. This is one time that telling people to have and care about an opinion is better for everyone.

> When you are required to do something, and when all of your peers, family, and friends are required to do the same thing, it generates a much greater discussion around it.

I'm Australian.

Compulsory voting does no such thing. Australians begrudge voting (and that we must fully enumerate our preferences).

The pragmatic reason for having compulsory voting is to provide a better sample of what the population wants. In effect, to dilute the crazies.

Voluntary voting is dominated by the question of motivation and ability. Those who are motivated and easily able to vote set the agenda.

Ever wondered why US politics is dominated by so many basically tangential issues?

Because whether you are pro or contra, abortion / marijuana / the death penalty / public health etc are classic issues to Get Out The vote.

And the consequences continue.

Ever wondered why US politics is about soaring rhetoric and heart-crushing negativity?

Because the basic strategy is: inspire your own voters so they turn out ("Yes we can!", "America is at a crossroads") and make the other guy's voters disillusioned enough so that, while they won't vote for you, they'll just stay at home.

Australian politics is more about transactional than transcendental issues, simply because the great bulk of people are required to vote whether they want to or not.

To summarise: it does not greatly improve the quality of voters. It improves the quality of outcomes.

> The pragmatic reason for having compulsory voting is to provide a better sample of what the population wants. In effect, to dilute the crazies.

Yes. It forces the expression of weak preferences which otherwise wouldn't be expressed.

Whether you begrudge it or not, the majority of Australians go to the polls when required, I assume. Generating discussion about something doesn't at all mean its something people take joy or pride in doing. That isn't a requirement in the equation.

Transactional voting is perfectly adequate. Its the minimum requirement you need to have a successful democracy. It still leaves room for the politicians that want to inspire people, or try to make them fear the other candidate, etc. But it also makes people talk about the day to day business of getting by. We sorely are lacking that here in the US.

I don't care about improving the quality of voters implicitly. That is a side effect of mandatory voting. Improving the outcome is the primary target.

Overall, I appreciate your comments and take the view that they illustrate and expand on my points, rather than refute them.

My point was that requiring people to vote doesn't make them discuss voting. Most people simply aren't interested in politics in this country, unless it's the machinations of the local footy club.

I agree that it improves the quality of outcomes. If the general population does not vote, then minorities will push their own agendas, which may be opposed to the general population.

Some examples in regards to one minority: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/nov/02/usa.religion http://www.hopscotchfilms.com.au/catalogue/god-on-my-side http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abramoff

Well put. Lets not forget the relevant science: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16206336

The problem with compulsory voting is that no box exists on ballot papers for many perspectives.

For example, I strongly believe that representative democracy (the common kind) is a farce and do not want to be represented by anybody but myself. The ballot papers make no room for this attitude - everything is framed in terms of the current system which is that either Bob or John will represent you.

It is analogous to the question "how often do you beat your wife?", which is loaded with the assumption that one beats his wife. Similarly, the voting systems we are talking about make the assumption that the person agrees with representative democracy.

Considering that I pay taxes and contribute to this society, it is, frankly, an injustice that my opinion is not represented in the least.

I don't think the US population would react so well to a non-voter fine, but I do think it would be interesting to see what effect there would be if an automatic tax deduction or rebate was offered. I suppose you run the risk of disincentivizing a few very young voters, but the perspective would seem much more appealing (hopefully forcing less quibbles over the 'point' or allocation of taxes).

As an American, I want people to vote who want to vote and for no other reason. They should have nothing stopping them from voting if they want to, and nothing artificially pushing them towards doing so either.

The big problem in America with voting is that election day is not a national holiday. If there should be any incentive to vote, there should be fines for employers who don't give election day off (not saying people cant' elect to work that day, but it needs to be a default holiday), or a mandated pay hike to employees working election day (say, doctors, police, utilities workers, etc that can't really have a day off).

But absolutely don't mandate individuals vote. Its their right not to. You don't get to go around telling other people how to behave if it doesn't negative impact you. And the people not voting now won't become more inclined to get involved because they are forced to, in the same way children aren't intellectually stimulated by being forced to go to public schools.

Or you could do like Washington State and change to a mail-only system. I voted weeks before Election Day, and then dropped my ballot off at my convenience.

I could see your argument for having deliberation day or something, but there are other solutions for the problem of long waiting lines at the polling place. (I was 18+ and resident in California previously, so I waited those lines, too. I wasn't employed then, though.)

Would you meet halfway on this? How about a box on the ballot marked "I choose not to vote in this election"?

No, because I believe on principle a government shouldn't control the movements or day to day actions of their population. That goes from drafts, to compulsory public education, to mandatory voting. Making education non-compulsory is a lot harder than just saying "kids don't have to go to school anymore" but I'm just giving examples.

Well then what exactly is the point of government, in principle, if they have no authority at all over people's lives? If everyone could do whatever they liked and ignore any rules set by anyone else, all the benefits of collective action vanish.

In the United States, it's perfectly valid to submit an unmarked ballot.

But currently you don't HAVE to go to the polls and submit an unmarked ballot.

I have been voting in all the elections I have been allowed to vote in. If I am ever forced to vote I won't. If the fine Is æarge enough, I will show up, get the ballot and rip it in pieces right then and there.

Voting should be a privelege for the few who are very well informed, not the many who are not.

And I would have no problem with you tearing up the ballot. As long as you were forced to go there, collect it, and tear it up instead of voting.

The important thing is that the effort required to vote or not vote should be the same. This prevents laziness, being too busy, as well as factors like transport or long lines from being part of your decision.

Would you have a problem with me instead voting for the closest equivalent of the nazi party?

Especially if that becoame the party to turn to for those of us who don't like to be forced to vote.

> Would you have a problem with me instead voting for the closest equivalent of the nazi party?

Go for it. Here's a list:


Your first point is pretty valid, it it basically the better way of not voting, since in this case the percentage of people wanting neither A nor B will be pretty accuratly known. And this, in turn could provide a much better picture of public opinion which in turn could take out a lot of political bickering and infighting.

But I completely disagree on your second point. A living democracy cannot live on just the "well informed few". In a system like this, fate of the society and almost all discussions would be dominated but exactly these choosen few, a self-percieved elite. In consequence, democracy wont be anymore, as are open discussions on issues important to any one. Voting in a democracy is not a privelege but a right to any citizen notwithstanding his position in life or his education or knowledge on a given subject.

If these "well informed few" have a special duty, it is to get all the rest at least well informed enough to not follow polical populists and extremist.

What elitist tripe. I've worked polling booths in Australia where people have come in and done exactly that (they have actively made a decision not to vote). That is their choice and I think that should be respected. I have no respect for the people who passively or apathetically don't vote.

Politicians should represent the entire country and that is why I strongly support compulsory voting. Politicians should be forced to govern for all. That means people you disagree with and people you consider uninformed. That is also why I believe prisoners and convicted felons should also be given the right to a vote. If someone is going to pass laws that affect you, you should have a say in who that someone is.

Their votes (for any value of them) are just as important as yours and you should come down off your high horse and reconcile yourself with that reality.

Politicians should represent the entire country...

Suppose I decide to vote instead of not voting at all. So now the winning candidate (who I may or may not have voted for) represents me, whereas he didn't if I hadn't voted?

...prisoners and convicted felons should also be given the right to a vote. If someone is going to pass laws that affect you, you should have a say in who that someone is.

Ok, what does that have to do with compulsory voting?

> Voting should be a privelege for the few who are very well informed, not the many who are not.

Except that you're not very well-informed. So why are you voting?

Then you have to vote null to signal that no candidate that you like is available. Much better to signal that by staying at home.

Brazil has required voting... and it sucks IMO. Uninterested people have to vote and use the opportunity to elect a clown (google Tiririca deputado) or sell their votes for some food.

Voting is not something I am forced to do. Do you think I don't vote because I am lazy? I don't vote because our election process is a crock of horseshit masked as something that actually makes a difference.

Where do you get off coercing me to participate in an obviously broken system?

When someone threatens to take that away, people are rather vocal about protecting it.

I expect people would be just as vocal, if not more, if the right to vote was threatened. The right to vote comes with the right to elect to not vote, and people like it that way.

Fuck you. And yes, I'm taking the post author's words here. Because he's right.

You're brainwashed. Your vote actually means zero. ZERO. It's an illusion of choice, NOTHING more. So yeah, fuck you and your peers.

I happen to agree with JWZ, but drop the attitude internet tough guy.

Votes aren't supposed to be meaningful. They're just analytics. Why should it be meaningful?

"Corrolary: You should vote "NO" on every Proposition unless you actually know what the fuck you're talking about. The California Proposition system is asinine, and the way to do least harm is to reject by default."

This is half correct, and that half is very much my policy. If the proposition is for something the legislature can and should be doing, I vote no; we are paying people to give these issues more time and attention than I can afford to.

There are three places this differs from the above, though.

1) If the proposition deals with something that hugely favors incumbents to the point that the legislatures won't touch it for fear of job security.

2) If the proposition is for something the legislature can't do (Constitutional amendment that really needs to be a Constitutional amendment).

3) Most significantly, there are places (raising taxes, mostly) where we have tied the hands of our legislature with previous propositions, and require a proposition.

For 3), my default position is yes; vote for decent legislators and let them do their jobs.

For the first two, I try to make a point of learning enough about propositions of that nature that I can make an intelligent decision. If I can't, however, my default is to not vote on those measures.

On propositions for things that the legislature can and should do, I agree whole-heartedly - vote no.

No! I'd rather people don't vote than vote no on something they don't understand... Unless you understand what you're voting for: don't vote.

No vote is better than a misinformed one...

> No vote is better than a misinformed one...

I precisely contend that, for certain categories of questions, that is not the case. If we want to try to pin this down with numbers somehow, it'll have to wait 'till morning though...

California now has both legislative houses with supermajorities for Democrats.

No excuses going forward.

I am not sure what you mean.

jwz's thesis, that uninformed people shouldn't vote, is overwhelmingly correct. I consider myself to be well-informed, politically speaking. Yet I voted in only 7 of 17 races on my ballot. I am not, for example, equipped to make informed choices for my jurisdiction's school board.

All ballots should come with a "No vote" option. What would the difference be from just leaving it blank? Nothing, except that it would give uninformed people a box to tick so that they don't have to stray towards the more important ones.

With that said, his stated corollary (to vote against propositions by default) is unhelpful and perhaps harmful. Many ballot proposals are stupid. Some aren't. As a voter, if you don't have an informed opinion, the right move is to leave it blank. Don't vote. Leave the job to those who have done their homework.

It's worse than that even. Having served as an election judge (and hence been obliged to assist those who needed it), many people needing help will ask "Which of these is the Republican option?" (where Republican = their party affiliation), even on issues that weren't particularly partisan, or national, or that even made sense.

The tact there being that party affiliation was more important than expressing their own choices, which isn't something that I understand in the slightest, especially as how centrist most candidates are.

It's pretty basic tribalism. "I am a Republican. Therefore, I will vote for the Republican option, unless I have an actual reason not to."

In front of that, there's probably, "My parents were Republican. My family is Republican. My friends are Republican." And so on.


This isn't actually wrong, per se. It's a basic affirmation of trust in one's close network. Some people go to church without bothering to believe in God; they go because they've always gone and their parents go and their friends are there and they discuss the football game or whatever. They're passionate about things because all of their friends are passionate about it.

jwz's thesis, that uninformed people shouldn't vote, is overwhelmingly correct

I rephrase that as "It is not good to have uninformed people voting." There are two ways to fix that: One is to work on the word "voting," the other is to work on the word "uninformed."

Some argue that the idea is that, for x= 50 or 66 or whatever, you want "x% of all people to have heard about, understand, and agree with it" as opposed to "x% of people with an opinion agree with it". If you believe that (to be very explicit: I am not certain what I believe, so please do not start arguing with me personally about which is better; at best I oscillate), then the default should be "no". (Arguably, it might even make sense to have different defaults for different kinda of things, as we already do with different values of x; as an example, sometimes tax laws rwequire x=66 while other laws only require x=50.)

> jwz's thesis, that uninformed people shouldn't vote, is overwhelmingly correct.

Uh, unjustified assertion ftw? Please tell me the rest of that paragraph isn't supposed to be the justification.

It's amusing that jwz brings up the California Proposition system and says that you should vote no on everything when that itself is an uninformed statement to make. Even if you want to keep the status quo, simply voting no on every is not necessarily the correct decision.

In California all referendums (still named propositions on the ballot) are flipped. That is, voting YES means that you want to keep the status quo and voting NO means you want to change it.

I think uninformed people voting no across the board is what caused Proposition 40, a referendum dropped by those who originally proposed it, to get 27% voting no, despite absolutely no one being on the no side.

The implied supremacy and paternalism in the post is pretty problematic.

What is your threshold for informed?

Should we have tests at the polls to make sure people have researched before they vote?

Do you really want to make a case for an "informed" electorate instead of a more representative one?

I know this post isn't saying to deny the vote to the "uninformed", just not to encourage them, but that sentiment implies a) that those people and their opinions are less valuable and b) that the atmosphere of excitement around civic duty which accompanies those posts is itself a problem. I would reject both of those premises.

Actually, the implied threshold is self-assessment. JWZ is suggesting: if you don't feel like you know or care enough to vote, feel free to not vote.

That's actually pretty fair and efficient.

Looks like a very bad idea to me, since people who know more are more likely to think they don't know enough (e.g. Dunning-Kruger effect).


It's difficult to address the problem of underinformed and uninformed voting, which is indeed an issue, or even address the issue of people who care little about the political system and their voice in it, and therefore don't vote because they feel uninformed. It's also difficult to turn uninformed people into informed voters who are active in their communities.

It's easy to say "fuck you" and tell people to stay home from the polls.

It looks like the author of the piece prefers the easy road.

Ok, so please define "informed".

Political opinion seems to suffer from an especially savage form of Dunning–Kruger. Often are the most steadfast and vocal in their opinions and the least objective.

Let's say for example, the economy. Maybe one party suggests lowering taxes on the "middle class" to stimulate spending and the other guy wants to make sure we don't tax the "job creators" so that they don't move overseas.

How am I supposed to know which is best? Do I need a degree in Keynesian economics or can I just listen to a few talking heads on the local news?

>How am I supposed to know which is best? Do I need a degree in Keynesian economics or can I just listen to a few talking heads on the local news?

You're not supposed to vote for what is "best".

You are supposed to vote for what you WANT to happen.

It could be the worst thing for the country but very good for you. That's OK too, if a tad selfish.

Now, if you don't know what you want or what is good for you, you still get to decide. Anything major that will be legislated, like taxes, WILL affect you. So, what would you do if you don't know which option is the best? What you do in every similar situation in life:

a) User your direct knowledge. b) Use your experience. c) Try to learn for other people that know that stuff. d) Discuss it with others in general. e) Read up on the issue. d) When everything fails, just your gut.

You'll have to suffer any consequences anyway.

And it's not like you can just have people with "degrees" and experts to make your opinion, or have the only right to vote on an issue.

1) For one, because those people also have biases, personal interests and hidden agendas. And even the non outright lying ones can be partisan, deluded, dogmatic, ideological or simply idiots with rich dads that bought them a good education.

2) Second, YOU'LL suffer from the consequences of any law, so it's YOUR decision to make, not theirs.

There are more sophisticated arguments than this one for not voting. Among them, even if you believe in a particular cause, you can probably accomplish more for that cause in the hours it takes to vote by doing something other than voting: http://www.artoftheory.com/the-ethics-of-voting/

Another reason: Those who are not merely voting among party lines are childish, superficial, and even reptilian, when it comes to picking candidates: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S19/28/30C37/

This is a non-issue, because they're clearly not listening (at least in the US).


48% turn-out doesn't mean people are listening, it could be that if so much effort didn't go into persuading people to vote that far fewer people would.

I'm happy to see someone take a stand against rampant, patronizing Non-Voter Intimidation.

Non-voting can be a sign of a healthy system: "Everything's working pretty good; I'm OK with either choice, or whatever my fellow citizens select."

Better yet: Stop voters telling me to obey whatever they voted on.

"Fuck you."

Oh, OK then.

I'm quite fond of requiring people to take the citizenship test before being granted their rights as citizens - including voting.

News Flash Corner: there is always somebody who thinks your electoral opinion is line noise in the system.

i always got the implied "we dont' care who you vote for" not just vote without being informed.

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