Joel Hirschhorn: Time for Americans to Boycott Voting

By Joel S. Hirschhorn
Special to

After many years of political disappointment, more progressives, liberals and conservatives – and certainly moderates and independents – know in their hearts that voting for Democrats or Republicans is a waste, if they want serious political and government reforms.  But few see any alternative in what is seen as a two-party-democracy.  There is an alternative that merits serious consideration: Just imagine if voter turnout was cut to 25 percent or less in the 2008 presidential election!

Imagine the whole world seeing Americans boycotting a broken and corrupt political system.  American would be seen as having a delusional democracy that its citizens reject.  After all, to keep voting in an unjust political system makes Americans willing political slaves that the rich and powerful elites exploit.

Cutting membership in the major parties is not good enough and, besides, most Americans are not party members.  We need a bolder strategy if we are to move beyond campaign slogans to genuine political reforms.  We must humiliate the political elites in both major parties and the corporate interests that support both of them.  We can send a shock wave throughout the political establishment by not voting in the 2008 presidential election.

This strategy is consistent with the thinking of Gandhi and King: peaceful resistance to political tyranny that can bring the corrupt system to its knees.  Ultimately, the most effective protest is through civil disobedience – to visibly and stubbornly refuse to respect what has become a corrupt, untrustworthy system.

When it comes to serious political reform, the American system has become so utterly corrupt that before it can be fixed it must be deconstructed and then rebuilt.

Taxation with misrepresentation means we need a Second American Revolution; it must begin – not with violent action – but with massive withdrawal by citizens that have seen the light.  We have a good head start with about half of eligible voters already so turned off that they don’t vote.  Obviously that has not been sufficient to change the system.  Nonvoters have been dismissed as lazy or apathetic, but in reality with our corrupt political system citizenship is no longer taken seriously.  An overt movement to boycott voting to get deep political reforms will make it impossible for the establishment to dismiss a much larger voter boycott.

There will be negative, defensive knee-jerk reactions to this audacious strategy.  Let’s examine them:

Many will think that taking such action violates our responsibility as citizens.  But taking that responsibility seriously as engaged citizens in the Jeffersonian sense must reflect that there is still a valid contract between citizens and their government.  When we vote we have the right to a political system that respects we the people and gives us an authentic representative democracy.  We have a right to a constitutional republic operating under the rule of law.  But we have elected representatives that no longer have the public interest as their primary commitment, nor truly honor and respect our Constitution.

They have been corrupted by corporate and other special interests that fund their campaigns to get the laws, loopholes and largesse they want.  They have been corrupted by power and the perks of office. The two major parties have a stranglehold on our political system that no longer merits our participation in their crooked game.  Political parties are not part of our Constitution and the two-party duopoly has demonstrated that both Democrats and Republicans put their own interests above those of we the people, our nation and our democracy.  We cannot vote our way out of our current, dreadful political system.

Whether you are on the political left or right, you will fear that not voting will help put in office people that support policies your abhor.  But decades of objective political reality tell us that even people from the party that we align with do not, when elected, fulfill their promises and our hopes.  Sadly, most Americans have become lesser-evil voters, deluding themselves that this is the best, least worse, yet awful choice.  Instead of feeling bad about voting for candidates that we know in our hearts are not worthy of our votes and public office, we must have the courage to say “enough is enough; I will not play in this shameful game any longer.”  We must stop legitimizing and abetting our government.

Many may fear that not voting sets a terrible example to children.  But isn’t it more important to tell America’s children that true patriotism must reveal itself by rejecting a political system that no longer merits respect?  Thomas Jefferson believed in periodic rebellion.  Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the rescue of their nation, peacefully by boycotting elections.

The small number of third party members may be screaming: yes, don’t vote for Democrats and Republicans; come over and join us!  I have been a strong third party supporter, but we must face the painful truth.  The two major parties have so rigged the political system in their favor and against third parties that voting for third party candidates for federal office is a futile action.  We must first boycott voting to create sufficient pressure to open the system to genuine political competition.  That requires a number of electoral reforms, possible if the nation gets its first Article V convention.  With reforms we can increase voter turnout to over 90 percent, as routinely seen in other democracies.

False patriotism may cause some to think that we must not show anti-American nations and terrorists that our government no longer has the trust of its citizens.  But that has already been widely disseminated by endless polls and surveys, including the recent Zogby poll that found a record-low 11 percent support for Congress.  Better to show our enemies that we the people have finally awakened and decided to re-assert our sovereignty and restore American democracy.

Voting in a delusional representative democracy is as harebrained as voting even though you know votes will not be honestly counted – which many fear may be true.  We may have lost control of our government, but we still control our voting. 
-Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government that presents many electoral and other reforms; he can be contacted through  Formerly, he was a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association.

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