Preceding our recent parliamentary election here in Norway, there was a national debate in newspapers over who should vote. Some political scientists took a lot of flak for their assertion that some people should refrain from voting. Specifically, they referred to “uninformed” low-engagement citizens. Instead, they should leave the decisions to a technocratic elite. This liberal elitist thinking attracted a tremendous amount of backlash. Unfortunately, Norway still has a high level of public trust in the integrity of politicians and political institutions. Denying or encouraging people not to vote triggered the prevalent public sentiment that as many people as possible should vote.
I agree with their assertion that some people indeed shouldn’t cast ballots. Perhaps I haven’t paid sufficient attention during previous elections, but I was genuinely shocked at the level of political rhetoric on campaign posters. “A Prime Minister for everyone!”, “Everyone on board!”, “Everything begins in school!”. The notion that people pick parties based on such banal and uninformative slogans is frightening. The popular sentiment against smarmy elites does indeed have a place in society, but to be frank a lot of people would do us all a favor by staying home on election day. If a one sentence bland slogan is going to change your mind on politics, you shouldn’t be able to influence the direction of the country.
I have a lot of respect for those who elected to stay home instead of making a hasty or poorly though out decision. Morally voting for essentially “none of the above” is an excellent choice. Such a decision can be interpreted as an expression of a desire for no group to be empowered to rule over others with force. It is an expression of peaceful, non-coercive coexistence. Staying home is sending a signal, just as much as voting for a specific party does. Low voter turnout is broadcasting a message of political disengagement. I wish to thank those that elected to stay home based on their own political ignorance. I don’t have an opinion on how a thoracic surgery should be performed because I don’t know the first thing about the medical side of surgery. In the same manner, low information voters that refrain from voting just for the sake of voting are responsible adults.
Ideally, we shouldn’t have a political system in which popular opinions can trump what is actually correct. I share this sentiment with the smarmy technocratic elites, but coming from a different angle. While they advocate restrictions in the franchise (whether actual in terms of voter rolls, or practical in terms of who actually votes), I advocate the dissolution of the political system that uses voting as a mechanism for choosing leaders. It is my assertion that get out the vote drives are harmful to society. If you weren’t going to vote before such a campaign, perhaps you shouldn’t force your uninformed political sentiments down the throats of your fellow citizens through the ballot box.
Low turnouts are undermining the legitimacy of our current system. Non-voters are therefore in practice fighting beside myself in the trenches, opening the possibility for a reform or an entirely new system. Perhaps our entire understanding of this problem is turned on its head. What if the blind sheepish voters are actually the uninformed ones, and those voting for the sitting-on-the-couch party are actually the enlightened ones?