Stop telling people to vote.

"You have to vote! It doesn't matter who you vote for, just vote!"

Fuck you. Stop saying this. It does matter who you vote for, and if you don't have an informed opinion about it, you should stay out of the game.

If someone hasn't taken the time to become informed, your petulant platitudes are not going to change that. All that you will accomplish is having another uninformed voter making an uninformed decision that will just as likely end up being against their and your best interests.

Corrolary: You should vote "NO" on every Proposition unless you actually know what the fuck you're talking about. The California Proposition system is asinine, and the way to do least harm is to reject by default.

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70 Responses:

  1. Glenn says:

    "Vote no by default" is a not corollary to "don't vote unless you're informed".

    • jwz says:

      If you are insufficiently informed to realize that "vote no by default" is the winning play, then don't vote.

      • Steve says:

        Many ballots are structured so that voting "yes" on a question means "no" or vice-versa. The terminology might be complicated enough that many people would actually be unable to follow your instructions in all cases!

        • Adolf Osborne says:

          We had this issue in Ohio a bunch of years ago, WRT tobacco use in workplaces.

          There were two issues in the ballot, and in order to keep things as they were, one would have had to have voted "no" on one and "yes" on the other. Brainfucks ensued.

          IMHO, voting ought to be like this: If you want things to be the same as they were yesterday, vote no. And if you want to change things, vote yes.

          Plain. Simple. Too obvious to work.

      • macnlz says:

        "Vote no by default" doesn't work in the case of ballot measures like Prop 8, though.

    • bode says:

      Obviously you know exactly nothing about California. Perhaps a better way to put this is, "if you insist upon voting while uninformed PLEASE vote no. Thank you."

      That said, there are of course oddball counter-examples, like the recent proposition 40. Yes was the informed vote; it never should have been on the ballot; the people who put it there actually wanted a "no" vote because "yes" meant "preserve the status quo"; and then they just gave up - there wasn't even an official "no on 40 campaign." WTF.

      California is hard enough to govern without a bunch of uninformed idiots voting to ban the eating of horse meat or spending billions of dollars locking up people for stealing gum. Just vote no, please.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    Did someone just say to jwz "Obviously you know exactly nothing about California"?

  3. Hear, hear! The only way "It doesn't matter [...] just vote!" works is if you think your political machine is better at brainless advertising to the stupid masses than the other. In fact, if you think your opponent might have a point, perhaps the best thing you can do is try to drown them into the noise. But people are herd animals, so you can be pretty sure that if you live in a lopsided area, rousting out the mindless vote will only further that majority.

  4. Lockers says:

    This just in... Old man yells at cloud.

  5. pavel_lishin says:

    Corrolary: You should vote "NO" on every Proposition unless you actually know what the fuck you're talking about. The California Proposition system is asinine, and the way to do least harm is to reject by default.

    Aren't some propositions phrased in such a way that a "No" means "Yes, do whatever it is you're trying to do"? (One example off the top of my head went something along the lines of "The blue laws of this state shall not continue as they currently are," where voting "no" means "keep the blue laws, can't drink on Sunday.")

    • Jon Konrath says:

      I think they actually worded that one "the blue laws of this state should not discontinue in the form that they currently not aren't."

  6. duggi says:

    fighting fire with fire, eh?

  7. Nobody says:

    Dear JWZ,

    I love you. Every time I bitch about this topic, people look at me like I'm advocating for the drowning of kittens. Thank you for being sane.

  8. Aloha says:

    I'm quite fond of requiring people to take the citizenship test before being granted their rights as citizens - including voting.

    • Chas. Owens says:

      Who writes the test? What you are suggest goes right back to the literacy tests used to block the black vote in the south.

      • Aloha says:

        The test was written by the Federal Government to give to people new to our country.

        Its easy, honestly.

        • Chas. Owens says:

          That is a terrible test to determine if someone is knowledgable enough to vote. Example questions:

          * How many amendments does the Constitution have? (really? what does this have to with anything? At least two amendments cancel each other out: 18th and 21st)

          * What is the economic system in the United States? (the "correct" answer is capitalist or market economy, but the situation is much more complex than that)

          * If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President? (meaningless procedural crap, has never happened, is unlikely to happen, and the line of succession has been ignored in my lifetime: Alexander Haig's "As of now, I am in control here")

          * What does the President’s Cabinet do? and What are two Cabinet-level positions? (these are not elected positions and have no bearing on who you vote for)

          * What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance? (jingoistic garbage)

          * When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms? (incorrect answer of April 15th, it is possible to get extensions, and has no bearing on being informed about elections)

          * Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s (yeah, that has some bearing on the current politics)

          * What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States? (come on)

          I stopped going through the test because it was becoming more and more irrelevant. Some people have to work for a living and barely have the time to actually vote and you want to force these citizens to spend their time studying irrelevant facts instead of the actual positions of the candidates and the situation the country is currently in? And you expect this to show they are informed?

          • nooj says:

            Okay, sure, but the same could be said of every exam in every educational institution. We still have tests in education, because we believe that studying something slightly relevant is a good enough proxy, and because we believe in the practice of studying itself.

            • Chas. Owens says:

              Your homework for tonight is to read the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments; study the use of the poll tax and literacy tests in the south to disenfranchise the black vote; and either refute the concept of the government deriving its power from the people or prove that disenfranchising the people who fail some undefined (and almost certainly partisan) test is consistent with that concept. Until you finish your homework (and show your results) I am going to ignore your opinions as being ignorant and dangerous.

  9. Agree! Agree! Agree! When it comes to voting for prez, if you are still undecided at the beginning of October, you are hopeless and need to stay out of it.

    • Chas. Owens says:

      I was undecided until I actually voted. I knew who I was likely to vote for, but I was waiting to see if he screwed up or the other guy pulled some magic out of his ass. Just because someone says they are undecided does not mean they are uninformed.

      • That's silly. You had ample time to get to know both of them well enough that a little last minute gaffe shouldn't have been enough to sway you. Unless you only preferred one guy by an extremely small margin, in which case you should refrain from voting since either one would basically be fine with you.

        Anyway, waiting for a guy to makes a mistake or something is silly. Everyone makes mistakes at some point, might be before the election, might be after. There is no magic in that particular date.

  10. KillyEkFael says:

    I don't vote. Because It is against my principles to vote. There is nothing undecided about it. I know exactly why I refuse to do so. I don't do so by ignorance.

    You can take my citizenship whenever you want. I actually would like to loose it but they don't give me a goddamn choice. Why do I refuse to vote?

    First it's an unethical act in and of itself. The State is an entity that has a monopoly on deciding what is legitimate violence on its territory, including its own violence. The only form of legitimate violence is self-defense : to protect its life and its property. The State can invade a country and commit mass murder. It can arrest a citizen who did no harm to anyone but just choose to consume a plant the State doesn't like. I don't say to someone that he can do so in my name.

    Second. It attacks your privacy. You are in another State database. It put you on jury list. If you are asked, you are forced to come, doesn't matter your reasons. It's slavery. And you pay with a slave wage. If you want to join a jury, make it voluntary.

    Third, It's degrading. You waste productive time for some government bureaucracy. You admitted yourself that these petty bureaucrat can't even get it right.

    Fourth, many people are more voting against the other guy. You encourage them to continue. They think you voted for them.

    Fifth, It doesn't matter. Your vote doesn't count. It statistically insignificant. And as Stalin said : it's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes.

    Democracy is a god that failed. No I don't vote. Because I don't support such tyranny. And if you vote. I blame you for how the world is fucked up. Don't blame me.

    • Tim says:

      You, translated: "Hi I am a perpetually immature asshole who is scared of adult responsibility so I'm going to flounce off and pretend that voting is equivalent to the support of tyranny so I can be super smug about how moral I am for not doing it because voting Supports The System Which OPPRESSES MEEEEE by occasionally asking me to do a tiny bit of work to help keep society functioning. All you evil jerks who are showing me up by actually doing shit are fooling yourselves. Sloth and whining are the only possible way to unfuck the world."

      (but please, do not vote, I agree with jwz on the whole "don't vote if you're an uninformed idiot" thing)

      • KillyEkFael says:

        I do not say voting is the equivalent of supporting tyranny. I say the act of voting itself in democracy is tyrannical and can not be something else. Right does not came from majority. If 1 person can not steal someone else. To vote on it doesn't make taxation "not stealing".

        You say that we need to do a a bit to help other. It's not a bit first. The State is everything but small. But maybe you read "three felony a day" by Harvey A. Silverglate. Maybe you have read the entire US tax code? I would like to see where the State is so small.

        And there is no need to sacrifice for the common good. Capitalism is to help itself and other at the same time. Maybe such philosophy is childish too. If you want me to commit a sacrifice, demonstrate me why I should.

        I have a system that works, the only that worked. It's called capitalism. No sloth and whining.

        So to me, you are the one scared of responsability. Who don't search to solve its own problem. But want a nanny to save him. Someone who victimize itself instead of acting to help himself. At beast you're ignorant about the consequences of our own action and not ready to face them. At worst you are, and you are a sociopath. And I don't mean it as an insult. I mean that you know you commit evil. And you don't care.

        • Tim says:

          First idiot screed: "No I don't vote. Because I don't support such tyranny."
          Second idiot screed: "I do not say voting is the equivalent of supporting tyranny."

          I hate to break it to you but you are very, very stupid. Please try to correct this. While not voting. Because that's the responsible thing to do while you are suffering from the dumbs.

          (Also while you are suffering from an acute case of randroidery.)

          • Dennis Nezic says:

            Tim, I believe your emotionality and ad-hominem speaks volumes. I smell a guilty conscience -- cognitive dissonance. Your brain was able to spot that logical flaw, but simply unable to process all the other information that was provided -- all that talk about tyranny. You didn't clearly address that issue -- although you did hint that you are aware of it before.

            Consider for a moment, after you're done inflating your chest, that the second "idiot screed" was flawed, and the first correct.

            • KillyEkFael says:

              Thank for the remark. I did not notice that I forgot to point the personal attack, and the lack of answer to my arguments. If you give an actual argument (and there is many) in favor of democracy. I will answer them to the best of my abilities. But literally say that not to vote is just stupid, without even trying to hide it behind pretty words. That's not a demonstration.

              It reminds me the Paul Graham article "how to disagree".

    • Ru says:

      "If you want to join a jury, make it voluntary"

      You haven't really thought this one through, have you?

      • KillyEkFael says:

        Well, if someone want to vote but not to be forced to join a jury? he doesn't have a choice. If you are an a voting list and are called to be a jury, you can not refuse. If you refuse, you will end up fined or/and in jail. That's being not voluntary. Or maybe people who don't want to join a jury because of their life, whatever their reason, still want to vote, don't have a right to do so for you.

        • Chas. Owens says:

          The part you aren't thinking through is the purpose of a jury. Juries cannot be made up of only people who want to be there. That would nullify the value of a jury. If juries were made up of only people who wanted to be there you would have a jury full of people with an axe to grind (exactly what a jury is supposed to not be).

          Frankly, I find you to be a hypocrite. You complain that this government (as if it were some external thing rather than being the derived will of the people governed) takes away people's property and rights and at the same time don't vote or want to be part of jury (two of the strongest powers in the hands of the people).

          • KillyEkFael says:

            I am against both voting and jury. I am against public law. I am for private law. I was merely pointing another downside that can justify not to vote. That you can desire to vote, but not wish to have the risk to be called for a jury for whatever reason. But a good way to avoid such thing would probably to read the website of the fully informed jury association. At the moment you will say "jury nullification", you're quite likely not to be in the jury. My position about jury and common law is more nuanced. But I didn't read enough about common law to can back up my position with sources.

            And I define the government as the people in the government. They are not me. They are not my will. There is no "the people". There is only individual. The government is not the people. They are not "we". They are "them". In most case, the government is elected by a minority of the population (non-voter and people having voted against him). But even if he did had the majority. Majority does not make right. If the government kill someone. it is not right or wrong because the government say so. A murder remains a murder. Robbery remains robbery.

            • WTF is "private law"? If you have private law, and I violate your law, what recourse do you have?

              I sometimes wish we could pass a law saying Randroids and the like could wear a badge which declared their wish to be exempt from all laws, which would free them from the tyranny of being protected by the police (and the tyranny of being protected by internal affairs from police mistreatment, and ....)

              • KillyEkFael says:

                Private law is not "I violate my own law and nothing". Attack what is really is then I will answer your critic of it.

              • Nick Lamb says:

                Private law is a term of art referring to the component of civil law handling relationships between individuals. Contract law, that sort of thing. No functional society has private law without accompanying public law, including criminal law but that requires government which as we've seen is anathema to some people. So basically when Bob kills your wife, you are supposed to go to a (privately owned) court and file a lawsuit against Bob for taking away a valuable asset of yours, for which you are entitled to compensation. You obviously have to pay for a lawyer to make your case, and for the judge and the expenses of the self-selected jury of Bob's friends. They find that Bob owes you nothing, and you walk away a penniless widower, but it's fair because it didn't involve coercion you see. If you had been richer you'd have paid for a standing army to defend you and your wife against marauders like Bob and so really her death is your fault for being poor.

                A reasonable person should have been rolling their eyes for most of the last paragraph. If you know anyone who starts nodding along, well, watch your back.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      If you don't want to be a citizen you have to leave. The US eventually, reluctantly, instituted a process to ensure that people who think they want to give up their citizenship figured this out. Step one of giving up US citizenship is: Go to a US embassy in a foreign country. That's actually enough to cut the flood to a trickle straight away.

      • KillyEkFael says:

        Well, why would you need to leave? Why should any man have a duty to leave because there is a tyrant? If you didn't like the British Empire, well, just leave. If you follow this logic, you should ask that USA end its existence and join the United Kingdom.

    • Hear hear!

      It's a shame that this perspective is still so far out of most people's reach. The fact of the matter is that governments are indeed inherently violent and oppressive (except towards those it deems worthy). Most people are on the good side of their respective government and so have not observed or experienced the heavy-handedness first hand.

      Anyone who has been in the less prestigious parts of society for a decent period of time will see that the way we live is only good for the more privileged parts of the population. If you're poor, sick or are of working class culture then you are treated quite differently to when you are well off, have influence and are capable of defending yourself.

      Having been on both sides of the fence, I can't blame most people for not seeing this - they simply haven't witnessed the reality of the situation. They are comfortable and have no reason to question the state of affairs.

      As for the rest of us - well, all we can do is spread the word and contribute to technologies which will take power away from the hands of cultures and corporations (e.g. Open Source Software).

      • Alex says:

        Most people are on the good side of their respective government and so have not observed or experienced the heavy-handedness first hand.

        You serves the interests of the majority? Holy democracy, Batman!

    • Turtle Boughs says:

      Someone's been drinking too much Kool-Aid again.

    • Rob says:

      Just as a technical point, you are welcome to renounce your US citizenship if you choose to do so:

    • jwz says:

      People, please stop feeding the troll. Or Randite. Or whatever. There is no future in it.

  11. Jay Cuthrell says:

    Indeed. I just moved to San Francisco (oh hai) but I voted in North Carolina per my registration. There were several discussions behind me in the early voting line that took the form of:

    "Why can't I just fill in this box for [insert party name here] instead of looking through the whole ballot?"

    "This is such an important election. Do you know who I should vote for on this section?"

  12. Fer Enaf (@0x00C0FFEE) says:

    There's a common criticism in free market economics systems; they are supposed to work only when all parties have complete information and take decisions rationally, and neither of them happens.

    Funnily, when one complains about how democracy doesn't work when people vote uninformed and using guts instead of brains, you're antidemocratic, unpatriotic, uneverything.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      To achieve its biggest and arguably only success democracy does not require that the electorate be informed or rational. Democracy provides for a bloodless transition of power, something numerous other systems had failed to deliver. Despite some people's fears Obama replaced Bush without troops on the streets and the same would have happened for Romney replacing Obama or the Democrats taking fifty more seats in the House.

      I mean, good luck with the whole informed and rational electorate thing, but meanwhile democracy has your back anyway.

  13. Dennis Nezic says:

    I always knew jwz was a closet anarchist. (That simple "no being the safe default" idea is deceptively subversive.)

  14. Nobody Special says:

    Good old elitist tripe. "I hate it when election outcomes occur that I dislike even though voter turnout is high! Stop voting and sdtop participating in the governence of our community unless you meet my personal arbitrary standards for what it means to be an informed or intelligent person!"

    Right. Shall we get busy on drafting up those poll taxes and voter registration tests to make sure only the "right" people cast ballots?

    • Joe says:

      That wasn't what I heard, "don't vote if you don't have an informed opinion about it" and "don't vote unless you meet my personal arbitrary standards" aren't equivalent.

      • nooj says:

        Mr. Special's point is, what defines "informed"? I could be informed enough to know Republicans are bad, and Democrats are good; I could be informed enough to know Obama and Romney shared the same views on most of the topics that matter; I could be informed enough to know that the winners of the past two or three Presidents have had fundamentally different rhetoric in campaigning, compared with their executive decisions; I could be informed enough to know that the status quo is unsatisfactory, and anything to shake it up or encourage shaking it up (ie, yes on every proposition, or no to all incumbents) is good.

        How informed do I have to be before I am sufficiently informed? That defines the arbitrary standard. Remember, there is layer upon layer of deceit and agenda hidden in politics; how many layers to I have to dig through before I can vote?

        That most propositions are bullshit and should be thrown out isn't my problem, because I don't write them. It's not my job to write decent legislation. Don't complain to me if I'm presented with bad legislation. It's like complaining that Occupy protesters don't have an answer. They shouldn't have to have an answer. The people we elected should have responded, not the police.

        All that said, I agree with jwz: don't activate the inactive. Thanks to TV, they are more likely to do themselves (and me) more harm than good.

        • nooj says:

          Perhaps most commonly, I could be informed enough to know that people I trust say I should vote this way.

      • Nobody Special says:

        The definition of "informed" is the issue. Who gets to decide what "informed" is, and how is it measured? By whose standards? Have Jim Crow and the Suffrage movement taught us nothing?

        It's easy to tell people to fuck themselves and stay home on election day. It's hard to fix the problem of those so-called "uninformed" voters. Guess which road this is. Create, educate, inform. Don't destroy, disinfranchise, and disable.

        • jwz says:

          Did it seem like I was proposing a law? Because what I was saying was, "Hey, stop encouraging your asshole friends to vote, because they're assholes." Who defines asshole? In this context, that would be me. Don't be an asshole.

          You just wait until I'm voted God-Emperor of Everything, Sparky. You just wait.

  15. GOTV is good for Democrats. If all registered voters became actual voters, Democrats would win everything in a huge landslide. Republicans understand this, which is why their campaigns are all about vote suppression - voter i.d. laws, shortening early voting, voter intimidation by partisan "observers".

  16. mikeash says:

    I have to disagree. The completely uninformed voters will tend to cancel each other out and not change anything. On the other hand, there are a lot of reasonably informed people who don't think they're informed, and lead busy lives and may not feel like wasting their time voting.

    On the other hand, the nutcases who stay home watching Fox News all day are definitely going to vote. In general, extremists will be more inclined to vote than sane people.

    Encouraging people to vote will, overall, tend to moderate the electorate, which I think is a good thing. Yeah, morons will also vote in larger numbers, but I think it's a worthwhile tradeoff.

    • If only there was some way to encourage smart voters while discouraging the idiots. Maybe if we made the voting process so complicated that only a smartie could understand it? We could call it, oh I don't know, Ranked Choice Voting?

      • Tim says:

        Unfortunately, it's hard to get there from here. Ranked choice voting threatens two-party rule. If it ever became a serious issue in the US, both R and D flavor politicians would likely band together to demonize and defeat it.

  17. DaveL says:

    Binding referendums, especially the ones that can't be repealed, are Bad Ideas and shouldn't happen. The only reason why everyone should vote is you want to count all the people who are (barely) smart enough to use the standard high-end weapon (e.g., a gun) in case of a civil war.

    In medieval times that was knights in armor, then it was guys with pikes or muskets, now it's Glocks. Alas.

  18. bq Mackintosh says:

    I generally hold that if you can't answer unambiguously relevant questions like, "How much was the state budget last year?" and, "How much was the state budget deficit last year?" then you probably shouldn't be writing law, i.e. voting on initiatives. Direct democracy is a horrible inefficient, error-riddled process; and with the advent of armies of paid signature gatherers, it's become a marketplace for buying laws.

    I used to describe the initiative process as a constant game of "Up with expensive schools! Down with taxes!" whack-a-mole, but last year provided Washington state with a nice concrete example: for years Washington maintained a state monopoly on liquor sales. This, of course, was a point of reasonable grumbling for a lot of people and the unswervingly fey legislature could never summon the grapes to do anything about it. Citizen Corporate initiatives to the rescue! Costco authored itself a bill and paid for the signatures to get it voted on by the sheep and presto! A bunch of people voted in favor of privatized liquor sales, only to find out that the law replaced the state monopoly with a corporate duopoly and now hard liquor is generally about 25% more expensive and pretty much always will be.

    Thanks, mob.

  19. Thank you. I'm not even American, and I got sick of all the "VOTE" nonsense.