Is Voting for Voting’s Sake a Good Thing?

Voter turnout in California is low. Just three weeks ago, the election held in Los Angeles saw an embarrassing 10 percent turnout. And, of course, the statewide turnout just last November was almost as bad.Irrespective of political affiliation, the immediate reaction among those of us who are politically engaged is that low voter turnout is not good for democracy. But perhaps we should challenge that bit of conventional wisdom. Is voting for voting’s sake really a good thing?

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Members of the self-serving political class, made up of politicians and the special interests that support them, complain about the lack of voter participation because they believe they should be seen as patriotically promoting the democratic process. But their faux sincerity is based entirely on whether or not they see a greater political advantage to a higher voter turnout. If they believe that a higher turnout will drive more low information voters, who can be easily persuaded by glossy mailers, they are all for more voters. (At one point it was suggested that Los Angeles should increase turnout by providing those who vote a chance to win cash through a lottery system.) If they don’t think that the additional votes are likely to help them, they will do nothing substantive to actually encourage greater participation.

Then there are the members of the “social engineering” class who are constantly looking after our welfare. Their thinking parallels that of those who want to control how much fat we eat, how much soda we drink and who want to get us out our cars. They know what is best for us, and what is best for us is that we all vote. (Daniel Webster once said that “the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.”)

From newspaper editors to academics, the “do-gooder” class weighs in on ways to solve this “serious problem” of voter disinterest and will sometimes stoop to promoting gimmicks to gin up turnout. On the Los Angeles ballot was a city charter amendment, which passed, that moves local elections so as to coincide with the state and federal elections that take place in even-numbered years. Almost no consideration was given to the fact that local issues will now become buried under the publicity surrounding races for president, governor, Congress and the Legislature. And if even-numbered years make such a big difference, why were the elections in 2014, an even-numbered year, ignored by so many voters?

There is no one reason why more eligible voters don’t participate. Some say that voting makes no difference, so why bother. Others may actually be exercising their right not to vote because they simply don’t see the need. Others might intelligently conclude that they are not personally informed enough and are satisfied with the decisions made by those who are more informed.

Let’s just hope that the scolds and manipulators will relax and let citizens exercise their constitutional rights as they see fit. Just as it is legally and morally wrong to prevent citizens from voting, we would find it extremely unpleasant to live with a system under which voting became compulsory.

Don’t believe that could happen? In the 2002 Iraqi presidential elections the turnout was 100 percent and Saddam Hussein received every one of the 11,445,638 votes. We suspect that many of those “participants” would have enjoyed the right not to vote.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece originally appeared on


  1. Randy Townsend says

    Voter turnout is dropping because irrespective of how many people vote, what changes? Gerrymandered districts result is practically no new pols replacing old pols – old ones quit either to get a more desirable political office or to retire on solid-gold pensions. Then, we are left with candidates that have been sufficiently vetted by the political machines that fund campaigns, assured the new folks will do exactly what the old folks did. Vote? For what? It’s ceased to have any measurable effect years ago. Don’t look for it to change.

  2. I’ll never understand the angst over people not voting. Sure, I get a bit peeved when those who agree with me don’t vote, but I should be glad when those who disagree with me don’t vote. That includes people who have no clue about what they’re voting for and, if forced to, would simply vote for whatever campaign slogan sounded good to them at the moment.

  3. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    Did you notice the (yesterday’s?) Yahoo item about Oregon (Idiots!) making voter registration AUTOMATIC, with vehicle registration? It was claimed this removes “barriers” to participation- ABSURD! the ONLY barrier is their OWN LAZINESS! Just wait, the NEXT “barrier” to be removed will borrow an idea from Lotto machines, and install a “Quick Pick” button, to remove the “barrier” of having to MAKE an INFORMED decision! Oh, but look at the participation go up ! Pathetic.

    • OR also has a 100% vote-by-mail system, and they’re still too lazy to fill out the ballot and put it in the mailbox.

  4. Stay Home – voting only encourages “them”.

  5. Joseph M Ray says

    To vote or not to vote may not even enter some peoples minds because our public educational system is not teaching the value of voting. Churches are not encouraging people to do their duty and vote and the selection process is not of the People. We need to select the runners to build the excitement. There will always be side-liners who do not care or feel hopeless.
    Just look at California government, it is a mixed bag of nuts!

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