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JOEL STEIN

Can't decide? Then just don't vote

October 10, 2008|JOEL STEIN

Don't vote. People will try to guilt you into it, but stay strong and resist. I'm talking to all of you who don't feel strongly about either presidential candidate, not just those 80 undecided idiots seated at Tuesday's town hall-style debate. Those people just crave attention and are way too proud of skimming enough Google News headlines to formulate a question. Give each a hug and a Debate Attendee diploma and I bet they'll pick a candidate real fast.

Voting is not an act of charity. It doesn't help anyone else. It's an entirely selfish act of expressing your opinion and asking for policies you want. If your mere opinion added to our nation's well-being, it would be patriotic to take telemarketing calls. And I'd read the e-mails you send me.

A high voter turnout doesn't make our democracy work better. Canada typically has a turnout of more than 75%, and it has yet to pick a leader anyone's heard of. If voting truly helped other people, you'd get an orange drink and cookies along with that "I voted" sticker.

Almost half of those who are eligible won't vote this year, and that nonparticipation is a legitimate expression of feelings about our political system. You'll be saying that none of the contenders convinced you but that your vote is available next time to someone who does. It's what I say every week to "American Idol."

Organizations that try to increase voter turnout -- Rock the Vote, HeadCount, the New Voters Project, the League of Women Voters and the Dorky Self-Important Guy Whose Office Is Near Yours -- will try to guilt you into casting a ballot. Most will use the scare technique of telling you that if you don't vote, you will forfeit your right to complain, which, if there had just been some Jews at the Constitutional Convention, would have been ensured by an 11th Amendment.

But I'm pretty sure that not voting is the safest way to assure your right to complain. Because if you do vote, the odds are slightly better than even that you're going to vote for the winner, which will ruin your ability to gripe about him. If I were John McCain, I'd put all my money behind ads that say "Vote for me so you can complain for the next four years."

Last week, a heap of celebrities appeared in an online video, self-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, sarcastically telling people not to vote. After DiCaprio, Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, Usher, Demi Moore, Tobey Maguire and Ellen DeGeneres told you not to vote, Courtney Cox asked, "Who cares about your children's education?" Jamie Foxx added, "Who cares about global warming?" Halle Berry: "Don't vote. Unless you care about healthcare." Forest Whitaker mentioned welfare and the minimum wage, and Dustin Hoffman talked about gay rights and abortion rights. Then they all pretended they were going to wait around on screen until you click over to a site that will register you to vote. The superior, self-satisfied tone of the video not only made me not want to vote for president, it caused me to throw away my Writers Guild awards ballot.

Such campaigns to increase voter registration all seem disingenuous because they are. There's a reason all the organizations trying to increase the number of voters are full of liberals. It's because poor people, minorities, the undereducated and the young are the least likely to register; the higher the turnout among those groups, the better the Democrats do. The reason no one is trying to "Country Music the Vote" is because George Strait fans already vote. We don't "Rap the Vote" because the only words that rhyme with "vote" are the Democratic-unfriendly "Swift boat," "zygote" and "sports coat."

But it's not only the political scheming of Democrats. The entire ruling class wants you to vote for the same reason dictators claim a 100% turnout: Casting a ballot tricks you into believing you have as equal a stake in the power structure as the rich and connected. It's a basic political-science axiom that citizens are less likely to revolt if they feel they determined who gets to look down Arianna Huffington's blouse at political soirees.

So feel free not to vote. Just remember, if so many groups' main objective really were to strengthen democracy, America would have gotten rid of the electoral college by now.

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jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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