This is part of the DR Book Collection.
My cynicism toward voting began a few years ago. After standing in line a mere 10 minutes at early voting back in 2012, I impatiently mentioned to my wife that we could leave and the state would still remain Red (as it has since 1980). While this Republican coloring may not always be the case due to the increasing Latino population (though they would have to increase their voter turnout), it was the case that time around. Why the sudden surge in pessimism? Boredom, for one, but also the growing realization that we do not live in a swing state (not that my vote’s instrumental value would increase much even in a swing state). The Romney/Ryan ticket was going to carry Texas despite my vote, not because of it. After teasing my mother via text about this unavoidable fact (she was a bit more zealous about her Republican vote than I was), I finally made it to the voting booth. I sat there for a minute, staring at the names of the presidential candidates. I suddenly felt the urge to vote for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, former Republican Governor of New Mexico and founder of Big J Enterprises (one of the largest construction companies in New Mexico when he sold it in 1999). This made sense considering I am more libertarian in my views than Romney and that my vote would not really change the outcome of my state (The Onion got it right). Nonetheless, having prepped myself to vote for Romney ever since he gained the Republican nomination, I followed through. However, I remained extremely skeptical of my so-called “duty to vote.”
Philosopher Jason Brennan’s Princeton-published The Ethics of Voting tackles the folk theory that says we have a duty to vote. Not only is the instrumental value of a single vote vanishingly small, but most voters are ignorant when it comes to politics: both of the candidates’ policy positions and the social science behind those policies. And this ignorance means most people should not vote. One may not have a duty to vote, but if one does vote, then that person has a duty to vote well.
You can see some of these ideas discussed in Brennan’s lecture below: