Voting Is Not Self-Expression

Electioneering is the hot thing this season. Taylor Swift has urged voter registration. Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft have announced plans to subsidize trips to polling places. Social networks — Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tinder — are running voter-registration efforts. In an article earlier this morning, Snapchat head of global public policy Jennifer Stout was quoted as saying “there is no more powerful form of self-expression than the ability to vote.”

An incredible assertion indeed.

To believe that all other forms of self-expression come secondary in comparison to voting is to believe that the outcome of the most heavily financed political contest in the world, run by oligopolistic political parties, trumps all of the greatest art, music, literature, poetry, and dance that the world has ever known; supersedes exploring the depths of the ocean or the far reaches of space, whether by human beings or machines designed by them; and diminutizes the building of commercial enterprises that serve consumers the world over, the invention of lifesaving medical procedures and pharmaceutical products, the development of world-changing technology, new forms of transportation, and so on.

Years of low voter turnout in the United States were a testament to the deep inner wisdom of Americans, who know that there is no accountability for campaign promises; that the act of voting asserts that the majority knows not only what is best for the minority, but for the individual; that it’s not the best (in any sense in which one would seek a friend, partner, or employee) but the most bloviating, convincing liars who ultimately become candidates  the campaigns of long-time party stalwarts Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton bear this out fairly well; and that the lesser of two evils is still very much an evil.

I’m regularly told that the Bush-vs.-Gore contest in 2001 and, more recently, that between Trump and Clinton prove that every vote matters. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true: By dint of these two examples, it has never been clearer that the outcome of any election can be invalidated or overturned by lawyers or political bodies (e.g., the Supreme Court or the electoral college). And no single vote has ever decided a U.S. election.  

Also worth mentioning is that as election turnout has fallen over the years, more and more dealers in opinion have begun seriously touting the idea that showing up at the polls be mandated by law. Even if one can get past the idea of being forced to participate in a political contest, it’s worth remembering that states tend to encourage activities that support and legitimize themselves while prohibiting or corrupting those that increase citizens’ autonomy.

Voting may be many things, but the least of them is self-expression. Earnest participation in an election requires quashing nuanced interests, views, and goals to submit to a tribe of sorts; the voter is not incidentally, but by the nature of the process, subsumed within a faceless collective. Conceding the sufficiency of multi-billion dollar political contests among two or three highly vetted, meticulously-coached candidates is as far from a symbol of either self or expression as can be imagined. On the contrary, it represents a clear and guaranteed road to self-negation.

 
 

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Peter C. Earle

Peter C. Earle is an economist and writer who joined AIER in 2018 and prior to that spent over 20 years as a trader and analyst in global financial markets on Wall Street. His research focuses on financial markets, monetary issues, and economic history. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, NPR, and in numerous other publications. Pete holds an MA in Applied Economics from American University, an MBA (Finance), and a BS in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter.