On (not) voting

I didn’t vote in the midterm elections this year, though my abstention was very much not intended as a statement nonvote. I feel as little desire to make democratic protests of democracy as democracy does to register my protests. Instead, my guiding principle this year–and my (feeble) shelter from the storm of people who insisted that I vote–was this: The state doesn’t need my input on how it runs its affairs.

Many voters and those who hector others about voting–usually sanctimonious liberals and good-government types–say that people don’t vote because of cynicism and apathy. Or, to put it more sharply, they say that nonvoters are cynical and apathetic. And that jump from noting a social atmosphere of cynicism and apathy to identifying an ownership of cynicism and apathy is no small matter, as it diagnoses nonvoters’ withdraw as an apolitical act, a private vice that marks an evasion of politics rather than a practicing of it. Besides being an extraordinary act of mind-reading, such denunciations foreclose the idea of exiting the field of electoral politics, reading such an exodus along the contours preferred by the state–that is, as a moral failing or the expression of a faulty consciousness.

This completely misreads what abstention accomplishes. Isn’t the refusal to vote–after questions of consciousness and morality have been cleared away–really a refusal to have political life restricted to the parliamentary, and of the mediation to even that implied by voting and representation? More importantly, perhaps, doesn’t a refusal of voting signal a refusal of molar politics as currently configured? In other words, the cynicism and apathy are hard-won, are very specifically directed against the current conjuncture, not necessarily against all political horizons.

The assumption by many is that not voting is easy, the sign of laziness more than anything else. As I’ve discovered this year, it’s actually very difficult to skip the vote, more difficult than it is to go to the polls, because no one has a problem telling you how much you are effing up by not participating and enumerating your many faults.


There’s a certain affective component to voting that is obtainable by nonvoters. There is a sense in which the process of voting, and in particular the conversations and encounters it engenders, points to a politics that exceeds the confines of the electoral arena. So even though I think that voting itself is a politically meaningless gesture, some of the codes unleashed by democracy’s functionings do escape their boundaries and flow to where they are not really intended to. That is, those flows are not able to be recoded correctly. That the encounters remain fleeting, not organized or unified, speaks to the impossibility of complete realization.


I should also mention that I like the feeling of being a part of the majority for a change.


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