I knew better than to click the link. That’s the internet in a nutshell. I did it anyway, because the headline was irresistible: “12 Young People On Why They Probably Won’t Vote.” The article was apocalyptic: These so-called young people are going to destroy the republic. If the story were a soup, I would have slurped it out of my cupped hand, like a thirsty traveler discovering a pond of soup in the middle of a desert.
The article made me feel superior because I am a middle-aged person who will definitely vote this year. It was nice to be reminded by an August New York Publication that I am one of the good guys.
The adults interviewed ranged in age from 21 to 29 and mostly talked about their fears. Some were afraid of visiting the post office for the first time. Others expressed apathy. One claimed his ADHD prevented him from doing his civic duty. They seemed perfectly happy sharing their superficial opinions with a big city reporter, like human sacrifices tap-dancing up an Aztec step pyramid.
The story reinforced a recent poll claiming that just over one-third of those ages 18–34 plan to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. This is nightmarish news for those trying to defeat the party currently in power. (The truth is young voters have turned out in historic numbers since Trump’s election, and other polls suggest a record youth turnout in this midterm.)
But here’s a little secret: I did not vote in 2014. I was 40 years old then.
I had, in fact, forgotten that I didn’t vote in that election. I was reminded by an old friend who recently texted me, “You didn’t vote in 2014?”
He was busy searching party affiliations and voting records of friends and family members. These are part of New York State’s public record. I think he was hunting for secret Republicans in his personal circle.
I didn’t have a good explanation. I texted him back to say I was living on the West Coast in 2014 — as if democracy doesn’t exist in Burbank. And, I reminded him, I did vote in the 2012 presidential election.
I was confident that President Barack Obama would usher in a golden age of human kindness and charity.
The reasons I didn’t vote in 2014 are legion. It was Taco Tuesday. I was confident that my fellow coastal elites would reelect the pinkos that have helped turn California into one of the strongest economies on earth. I was confident that President Barack Obama would usher in a golden age of human kindness and charity.
How was I supposed to know that reelecting a biracial man whose main legislative accomplishment was forcing health insurance companies to extend coverage to sick people would turn the Republican party into the White Power Walking Dead?
But, I suppose, the real reason I didn’t vote was because I didn’t think my vote mattered.
Political parties count on people like me feeling that way. Elections aren’t won by a majority. They’re won by whoever can get the largest minority of voters to show up at the ballot booth. If some of the other side’s voters can’t be bothered, all the better.
I know that now, and I am going to vote this year. Not because I’m afraid my friend will angrily text me in two years to say I’m to blame for society’s collapse. No, I’m going to vote in the coming midterm because it’s the right thing to do. I should have voted in 2014, but who can afford time travel these days?
You don’t have to vote. There is no law that requires it. This is America, land of the free. You are free to do whatever you want unless it’s illegal, or an angry grandmother doesn’t like the way you look and calls the police. It is illegal to scare the older generation.
Voting is only mandatory in dictatorships, and America is not a dictatorship — at least not yet. In a dictatorship, citizens show up to polls because fascists love a parade. But in America, the country that invented democracy, you are free to vote… or not.
You have rights, you see. You have a right to play video games instead of voting. You have a right to not care about anything other than begging for money on the internet. You have a right to not give a fuck. You have a right to disappear. To implode. To disintegrate like a vampire at dawn. You have a right to become dust and crunch under boots.
I’m not one of those people who thinks that those who chose not to vote don’t have a right to complain when elected politicians turn out to be monsters. You absolutely have the right to complain about anything you want — as long as you do it quietly, and not on social media, or the Nazis might read it.
I should also mention that voting takes effort. This is a solid reason for not voting.
Capitalism is all about choice, and there are many reasons not to vote. For instance, it’s fine not to vote because the politicians who are running aren’t as smart as you, and neither are the people they represent. It’s also perfectly fine not to vote because, you know, life is meaningless toil. Nihilism is a dreary pose, but do whatever you want.
I should also mention that voting takes effort. This is a solid reason for not voting. There are deadlines and paperwork. You have to visit a polling precinct or stand in line, and that’s basically a job. Not to mention the fact that many of us have to take time off our actual job, or jobs, to do it! And then what? Nothing ever changes except, suddenly, when it does.
Maybe, in the distant future, elections will be determined by retweets and only the sickest burns will win.
So vote or don’t vote. It’s like that scene with the pills in the popular documentary The Matrix. If you choose to vote, don’t tell anyone. Just vote. Vote for yourself. Vote because it’s all you have. (Everyone gets one vote, even very rich people, who would probably love to change that.)
My vote is mine. My vote is a small power, but power nonetheless. My vote counts because I count. It is mine, and I will do with it as I please. I can squander it if I want. My vote is not a trophy. It is not a sticker that reads “I Voted.” My vote is not an Instagram post. My vote is a wish. My vote is a punch. My vote is a scream. I exist. My vote doesn’t matter and, at the same time, it matters. The way a single breath doesn’t matter until you stop.
But I won’t text you if I find out you didn’t vote. 100 million Americans didn’t vote in 2016. You’re in good company. Don’t vote because it’s hard. Don’t vote because it takes time. Don’t vote because you have bills to pay. Don’t vote because a coworker will judge you. Don’t vote because the internet will mock you. Don’t vote because history is suffocating. Don’t vote. Roll your eyes. Scream into a pillow. Lock the doors. If you don’t think you matter, then you don’t.