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Rhoads: The Right Not to Vote is Also OK



By Mark Rhoads Old LADY

In the early 1960s, there was a legend about an elderly lady in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.  The town officials got special permission from the state to open the polls at a minute after midnight on Election Day so all the town voters could vote and the town would beat other towns to be the first in the nation to report results.  Everyone had voted except for one older lady.  Town officials and news media walked a few blocks from the polling place to her front door and apparently woke her up. The chief election judge said to her, "You are the only person in town who has not voted yet and we want to close the polls so we can report results."  The annoyed woman, who shunned many town events, replied, "Sorry, I never vote, it only encourages them." and she then shut the door.

While Civics teachers are horrified when voting participation is not high, Americans do have the right not to vote as well as the right to vote. Their reasons do not matter. Sometimes people skip voting because they don't follow politics or find it boring and they just don't care who wins. Civics teachers argue that nonvoters give more disproportionate power to those who do vote.  Maybe yes and maybe no.  When Mitt Romney ran against President Obama on November 6, 2012, voter turnout dropped from the 2008 level of 62.3 percent of eligible voters down to 57.5 percent in 2012.  In spite of an increase in 8 million more eligible voters in 2012, voters declined from 131 million in 2008 to 126 million in 2012 and 93 million eligible Americans chose not to vote at all in 2012. Some people might not vote because they are too busy or don't dare.  Others, like the lady in Dixville Notch might choose not to vote to protest the choices. Is the nonvoter's choice not to participate responsible?  A Civics teacher would argue no but advocates of freedom might say yes because protesting is also a civic act.  Some counties try to force 100 percent participation by eligible voters but the U.S. has never coerced people to vote against their wishes.  To be honest, given the fact that many  voters now are not as well informed as they should be on candidates and policies, maybe it is not a bad thing that millions choose not to vote.  The problem of course is that someone will wind up winning and we all have to live with that choice.    


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  1. If they haven’t studied the candidates, don’t know the issues, and don’t pay attention, they should stay home on election day.
    We have enough people who believe all the wrong stuff who DO vote, without adding unknowing idiots to the mix.