The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday February 28th

Column: There's nothing rational about our choice to vote, but that's OK


Henry Gargan is the Opinion Editor. He is a senior journalism and global studies major from Chapel Hill.

What will your vote do? I’m not sure I could give you a good answer.

Cynics are, in most cases, correct in pointing out that your vote won’t change anything, in a probabilistic sense. After all, there are many more efficient and substantial things you can do to better your surroundings and the lives of others.

But should what your vote accomplishes have any bearing on whether you ought to cast it?

The irrationality of participating in the democratic process mirrors the irrationality of our participation in most of life — beautifully illustrated by anyone who’d write a column calling voters to arms the day after an election.

Fully aware of how totally out of our hands the future remains, we still show up for it.

We grope for the reins to our lives as we tumble into the future, even if they are as far from our grasp as the deciding vote in any election.

And so, on election day, we showed up — not because we knew our vote would effect the change we desired, but because we knew that if we only acted when we could be certain of cause and effect, we’d never do anything.

A good friend of mine likes to sum this up as follows: “Everything we do is a statement of value.”

I’d propose an addendum clarifying that everything we choose not to do makes a similar statement.

Voting, however statistically inconsequential, matters insofar as it is another way to express our belief that our voice has value. Yes, there are more efficient, substantial ways to make this statement. The voting mechanism is far from perfect, but it’s a lot closer than abstaining.

It has been persuasively argued along similar lines that not voting is a statement of value in protest of largely ineffective or oppressive voting structures. But choosing not to vote suggests that an act of protest is more highly valued than the actual good that votes, in aggregate, can do for others.

When it comes to the circumstances of those who literally live and die according to the decisions of their government, there can be no time for moral self-indulgence. It is not noble to abstain from supporting the lesser of two evils when the immediate alternative is greater evil.

The only moral course of action is, in this case, a swift and deliberate one toward a voting booth.


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