Thursday, October 27, 2016

Is not voting something like committing voter fraud?

That question may sound silly, but since we are deep into the “silly season” of this election it is one worth asking.  Is not voting something like voter fraud?  Think about the following scenario for a moment, and you might begin to think the answer is “yes”.

In recent months you may have come across a staunch supporter of Candidate A in a hotly contested race who says something like “if you don’t vote for my favorite Candidate A it’s the same as voting for that horrible Candidate B.”  Then sometime later, a supporter of Candidate B tells you the exact same thing, just in reverse.  They say not supporting Candidate B is the same as voting for that horrible Candidate A.

Taking that thinking to its logical conclusion, not voting at all is like voting for both of the candidates.  If that were literally true, voting twice by not voting at all would be committing voter fraud.

Fortunately, staying home or leaving individual races blank on your ballot is still a valid option that doesn’t involve committing a felony.

However, it also doesn’t mean what many voters think it might.  Notably, it doesn’t mean you are casting a “protest” vote.  You aren’t effectively protesting anything because one of the candidates is still going to win.  Also, our electoral system does not allow you to truly vote against a candidate, so please don’t go around saying “I voted against Candidate A by voting for Candidate B”.  No, you didn’t.  You voted for Candidate B and for all the consequences that entails.  If somewhere down the line Candidate B does something predictable based on their political philosophy and you think that something is horrible, remember, you voted for that too.

In this election season saying it’s meaningless to sit out a race because you don’t like either candidate may sound harsh.  It is also true.

Not voting at all in a race when a candidate is unopposed might make a voter feel better, but it doesn’t change the outcome.  One would hope it might send a message, but it’s hard to say even a large undervote or “protest vote” in these cases makes much of a difference.  Take as examples, the Mayoral races last cycle in Cornelius and Davidson.  Both Chuck Travis and John Woods were unopposed.  Both received a large percentage of write-ins or undervotes against them due to their stance on the I77 toll issue.  Both of them still went to Raleigh to advocate for the project to Senate leader Phil Berger after that “protest”.

A protest vote only matters if those it’s cast against care.

In a race with two or more candidates, not voting is very unlikely to impact the outcome and you can be sure whichever candidate gets the most votes won’t care about how many people left the race blank.  It goes to the fundamental nature of the two party system.  State and Federal general elections are head to head  contests employing the “first past the post” method to determine the winner - meaning whoever gets the most votes wins. Period.  Yes, there is the Electoral College in the Presidential election, but since NC might be a critical state whichever candidate gets the most here could determine the overall outcome.

None of this is to say voters should always hold their noses and pick someone.  If you think both candidates in a race would likely vote the same way on the issues most important to you and you oppose their position, leave it blank.  Just know someone will win and they will be representing you on that issue and others as well.

The way to remedy this situation over time is to have better candidates up and down the ballot.  The best way to have that happen is getting more people involved in the political process working to have the best people bubble to the top.

After this election where so many people are talking about not voting due to dissatisfaction with their choices, where we go afterward as the voting public may be as important as who wins on election day.

This post first appeared in the Herald Weekly at

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