Alternatives to voting

Andrew Hintzman

Last term, The Lawrentian published an article I wrote detailing an apparent lack of reasons to vote in political elections. I argued that the small impact a vote makes is nothing compared to everything one must learn about the candidates, economics, healthcare, war, law, etc. in order to vote competently and responsibly. Further, it is bad to be an irresponsible and incompetent voter. Being a good voter requires a lot of effort, more than enough to make the small impact of a vote not worth the effort.
Overall, I was pleased that so many people felt strongly enough to take a stand against my argument. Several people engaged my article but either did not grasp my intended argument or shot down arguments that I did not put forth. Some concluded that a person who does not vote is only motivated by apathy and bitterness. I am not such a person. I value the society around me; I just find that voting is a generally weak way to engage in it.
However, a few people employed arguments that I find intriguing. They challenge my cost/benefit argument roughly as follows:
1) There are benefits to living with others in a community. The relationships we have with our families, nations, or even the whole of humanity give meaning to life and provide benefits. The life of a hermit is not in anyone’s best interest.
2) One can benefit by contributing to and participating in communal activity. The more one improves a community, the more one stands to benefit from it.
3) Voting is a means by which one participates in and strengthens a community.
4) The benefits a community gets from voting are significant enough to outweigh the costs.
The first three points are obviously true, but not the fourth. The argument only proves that one should give back to their communities in some way or another, not that we are obligated to vote. Whether or not voting produces significant benefits depends on the situation – and it is not a situation in which we live today. There is still the question of how much good voting produces relative to other activities. Voting is better than doing absolutely nothing, but is it better than other acts that are philanthropic or community-minded?
There are many ways in which a person can participate in communal life. People can volunteer their time at a city food pantry, work more in order to donate money to the latest or most pressing natural disaster relief efforts or use their wealth and time to campaign for the rights of the disenfranchised. The possibilities are endless. Many of them are relatively costless compared to the beneficial impact they have – especially with regard to natural disasters and the developing world.
Rather than spending the hours upon hours of research to be a responsible and competent voter, one can engage in these other activities. When one can produce more good than voting relative to the time and effort required, is it not better to refrain from voting to produce that greater good?