Introduction to Dissenting Electorate

Carl Watner

I must make a confession: Never in my life have I registered to vote, much less voted, in a political election. Since the time I was a young adult, I had an intuitive feeling that there was something wrong and improper about political voting. In the early 1980s, this book’s co-editor, Wendy McElroy, observed that I was not alone. She said there were literally millions upon millions of non-voters. Among them were some who had written about and published their reasons for “refusing to vote.” This book is a collection of those writings.

Although there are religious groups, such as the Quakers and Amish, who from the very earliest days of the United States eschewed politics, this chronological collection of essays begins with one written by Adin Ballou, a leading abolitionist and pacifist of the mid-19th century. The attitude of the non-voting abolitionists was that if the American government upheld slavery, then the abolitionists, by not voting, would refuse to sanction and participate in an unjust political system.

With the exception of the second article, which is written by the well-known English philosopher Herbert Spencer, all the remainder of the pieces in this anthology were written by Americans. They were selected because they illustrate a variety of reasons for not voting.

The primary purpose of this book is to prove that there is more to non-voting than one’s gut reaction not to participate. There are very important moral and political reasons for not voting.

The secondary purpose is to offer an intellectual defense of the non-voter. Non-voters have always been, and actually still are, the majority in most political elections in this country. Their right to remain unrepresented and unsullied by politics ought to be recognized. The fact is that non-voters have won every presidential election ever held in this country.

Political voting is something sui generis (something peculiar, something unique) because the institution to which it applies – the state – is different from any other organization in society. Membership (i.e., citizenship) in the state “organization” is compulsory. The state establishes a monopoly of defense services (police, courts, and law) in a given geographic area. Furthermore, it collects its revenues via compulsory levies, euphemistically known as taxation. All those who refuse to acknowledge its jurisdiction or pay its assessments are thrown in jail, have their property confiscated, or both. There is no way to opt out!

Most modern states provide for political elections in which their citizens choose from a slate of predetermined candidates or policies. Majority rule usually determines the outcome. Regardless of the number of people voting, the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins. Even if you don’t vote, you are bound by the outcome of the political election. It is still your president, your representative, your tax – even if you haven’t voted or voted against the person who won the election.

The main thrust of this book may be summarized in the following points:

1. Voting does not override individual rights or establish the truth. Majorities cannot vote away the rights of minorities.

2. Voting is implicitly a coercive act because it lends support to a compulsory state.

3. Voting reinforces the legitimacy of the state because participation of voters makes it appear that they approve of the state.

4. There are nonpolitical methods that rely on the spirit of voluntarysim that better serve society.

“Well,” one might ask, “if the non-voters are right in not voting, what should we do? Isn’t non-voting really a do-nothing tactic?” It might be, except that there are plenty of things we can do if we focus upon ourselves, rather than society as a whole. We are only responsible for ourselves (and our children until they become adults). We can never reform another person. In fact, the only thing within the power of any non-voter “is to present society with one improved unit.” As Albert Jay Nock put it, “[A]ges of experience testify that the only way society can be improved is by the individualist method …; that is the method of each ‘one’ doing his very best” to cultivate his own garden. This is the quiet or patient way of changing society because it concentrates upon bettering the character of men and women as individuals. As the individual units change, the improvement in society will take care of itself. In other words, if one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.

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