How I will be voting

The previous UK election was an EU election. It would have been inconsistent with my desire for a responsible media and a small state to vote other than against the media and against the EU. Let’s be clear about what a UKIP vote was at the previous election: it was a vote against the existence of a political institution that we do not need and do not want, so I voted UKIP.

The test for this Westminster election is very different. This is an election about how political force is wielded at Westminster and none of the parties, including UKIP, are standing are standing on the platform “not at all, thank you”.

Like Rocco (or at least ostensible Rocco, the man talks in code half the time) I believe it is important to vote. Politics operates in a dreamland, but a vote creates a new fact of reality that politicians will pay attention to. So how to vote in this election? What facts of political reality can be created that matter?

I take seriously the idea that voting legitimises the process of democracy and implies a sanction on the use of political force over the minority, but your absence from the ballot sends no message at all to your rulers. At best they will assume you do not care what they do to you. The task is, instead, to explain that you do care but you do not want them to do what they propose to do.

Absent a libertarian candidate and absent a “none of the above” option there are two options remaining: the lesser evil and a spoilt ballot. Unfortunately, as can be expected in a system in which the majority vote for the lesser evil, there is not an evil which is tolerable. There is not a mainstream party in the UK which will not actively pursue an agenda harmful to liberty. A party which offers to tinker a bit around the edges and basically change nothing would be something of value worth pursuing, but that is not on offer. All the parties are going somewhere and all of them in one wrong direction. They offer nothing more than the liberty to choose your favourite plastic teenager from the line up of a Simon Cowell pop-band, when what you want it is genuine punk-tinged English folk music with a beat boxing double bassist.

So, I implore you, get up off your arse on polling day, get into the booth and spoil your ballot in the most amusing manner possible. Send a message that you care, and what is on offer is not what you wanted.

Simon Gibbs

Simon is a London based IT contractor and the proprietor of Libertarian Home. Working with logic and cause-and-effect each day he was naturally attracted to nerdy libertarianism and later to the benevolent logic of Objectivism. Find him on Google+ 

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  25 comments for “How I will be voting

  1. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 14, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    And a resounding YESSSS! to your posting, Simon. Not about the particular UK election, in which I can’t participate, but about voting in general.

    There is an argument too often made that to vote is to commit aggression against the rest of the populace, since you will be trying to set your guy up to rule over others; or, if you prefer, trying to put him in a position to exercise force over them. In fact, you will be attempting to dominate the will of others.

    But this is nothing but rationalization. Given that there will be a government at all, there must be some method of determining who will constitute it, and the resulting government will inevitably exercise force against some of the governed.

    Assuming that one votes for the candidate who is most likely to pursue nonaggressive policies against the populace, or even to pursue less aggressive ones, one is voting against the use of force against the populace, or at least voting for a lessening of such force. To fail so to vote is to increase the more pro-aggression candidate’s chances of attaining the power to aggress. This allows one to indulge in self-congratulation for virtuously keeping “clean hands,” as though failing to vote against Obama in the name of not proposing to exert one’s own will over the populace somehow absolves one of any responsibility for the disastrous results of the election. But the fact is that one has failed to vote against someone who clearly has the worst interests of the individual people at heart. This does not display “clean hands” nor even ideological purity.

    Interestingly enough, there is also an exact opposite argument against voting, which proceeds from a vocal segment of the allegedly bright “libertarian” academy — chiefly “philosophers” and economists, I think. They argue that there is no point in voting because “your vote will make zero difference anyway.” Having gone into this at some length awhile back, I will just note that this is, frankly, stupid when it comes from someone who is presumably educated. In the first place, it pretends there is no such thing as the cumulative effect of tiny differences. It is mere formalism (though technically correct) to say that the last straw added is the one that broke the camel’s back, because if any one of the prior straws loaded on had been omitted, that last straw would not have had the result. Indeed, in that case one might then add the omitted straw to the load and the camel, poor thing, would still suffer the broken back.

    And the irrefutable fact is that in every election, there is a winner. (Once in a great while a runoff is necessary after a tie, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the end someone wins.) This only happens because of all those ballots which, while allegedly “making no difference” individually, nonetheless were cast for the winner. In other words, they DID, in sum, make a difference.

    Along with this, there is Simon’s excellent point that the victory of this or that candidate is not the only effect of an election. The numbers matter. The number and the percentage of votes cast for X and for Y does send an important signal to the politicians — and not just to the candidates, either. Of course, politicians are free to ignore the signal, or to read it incorrectly.

    Let me just point out that in the U.S., the Democratic Party understands this perfectly, and it has “Get Out the Vote” down to a fine art. Contrast this with the Republicans, who, as Star Parker keeps saying, need to get out into the neighborhoods, take some part in neighborhood activities, make friends of the neighborhood people, and so forth; particularly in the “black” neighborhoods. Computer systems? Tchah!

    “But,” some say, “to vote only encourages the bastards.” Yes, politicians are free to ignore the signal, or to read it incorrectly. I suppose somewhere you can find one of them who thinks that “as long as people are voting, we haven’t tried their patience or hurt them so badly that they’ll overthrow us by violence”; but I imagine that that idea is rare indeed.

    Actually, I can see one situation where one might just as well stay home and wash one’s hair instead of voting, and that would be when — IF — the candidates were exactly equally desirable or undesirable in the mind of the particular voter.

    And there’s one other argument that some of the more rabid make: the sooner the country falls due to rotten policies of rotten pols, the sooner we can start over and this time, Get It Right.

    To which I can only say, There, dear, don’t worry, you’ll feel much better after you take your meds.

  2. Mr Ed
    Apr 14, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    If you don’t vote for the least voracious tapeworm, what have you done to stop or slow the most voracious tapeworm? Keep voting in the US until Rand Paul is President, at least you’ll a chance of getting an honest and innocent man in the White House.

    If you don’t vote, the bastards simply wail about encouraging participation. No one in power ever agonised over whether a libertarian would not vote. The UK rid itself of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister last time, a small triumph, one foxhole, perhaps a village retaken, for the Finns in the Winter War, but a gain is a gain.

    • Julie near Chicago
      Apr 14, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Well said, Mr Ed! 🙂

  3. Ken Ferguson
    Apr 15, 2015 at 6:58 am

    I take seriously the idea that voting legitimises the process of democracy and implies a sanction on the use of political force over the minority, but your absence from the ballot sends no message at all to your rulers. At best they will assume you do not care what they do to you.

    I think you have come to the wrong conclusion and for the wrong reasons. If you think anyone in power is going to take any notice of, or even read, your amusing quip on your spoilt ballot paper you’re deluded. I suppose you could try “a bomb will go off in Euston Station at 5pm”.

    At an individual level, you should not participate in a process that not only homologates the power of the self serving clowns who are going to govern you for the next five years but actually legitimises the violence that the state will use against you. By going to the polling booth and participating in an election you are agreeing to accept your role as a state slave. Even if there were any prospect of electoral success for libertarians in the UK and even if there were a “libertarian” candidate it would be wrong to vote for him.

    And, by the way, Julie’s point about the wisdom of crowds is also based on collectivist thinking. I see my fellow citizens every day and can assure you that very few of them have any wise thoughts. But even if they did, logic tells us that, at an individual level, voting is undoubtedly a waste of time. The chances of my vote influencing the outcome of anything make the lottery look like an even money bet.

    The correct response of the libertarian to an oppressive state is to deride it and to resist it but this can only be done at an individual level. It is certainly a grave error, in my view, to get involved in the collectivism of democracy because it diminishes the moral argument on which your resistance stands.

    • Julie near Chicago
      Apr 15, 2015 at 9:04 am

      Correction, Ken. I said not one word about “the wisdom of crowds.” The alleged wisdom is not particularly noticeable.

      My argument is that if I don’t wish to be a slave then it’s up to me to do something about it; in the case under discussion, by voting. My argument is that to fail to vote against an aggressor is to help to empower him, which is not in my best interest nor in line with what I claim as my “libertarian” political philosophy. It also helps to sell my fellow citizens into slavery, which is an immoral act according to my philosophy.

      But one must work with what Reality has put on the menu. If the choice is between a society under the rulership of Mao and that under the rulership of, say, FDR or Jimmy Carter, I will take the latter.

      Mr Ed’s remark on this is an excellent summary.

    • Apr 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Nobody in power will read the spoil ballot, but somebody in power may ask a member of staff at a count their opinion about what the spoilt ballots mean and if they have been seeing “none of the above” all day then that is what they will say.

      @Julie: please note that I do not endorse the lesser evil strategy.

      • Julie near Chicago
        Apr 15, 2015 at 8:39 pm

        Simon, I admit it. I was so excited by what I saw in your posting that I believe is correct, that I missed your main point. For that I apologize.

        In particular, this gets the “resounding YESSS!!”:

        I believe it is important to vote. Politics operates in a dreamland, but a vote creates a new fact of reality that politicians will pay attention to.

        At this point I have further issues with your posting, but this is not the place. And the fact remains that I absolutely agree with the quote above.

  4. Nico Metten
    Apr 15, 2015 at 10:29 am

    If the rulers don’t care about the absence of voters, then why do we very quickly have a debate about mandatory voting whenever numbers of voters go down? The whole system is not based on who has more guns, but on legitimacy. If people stop going along with it, the system will go away.

    You might say, that people will go along with it as there are not enough libertarians at the moment. Fair enough. However, if so many people are not libertarians, nothing good will come out of an election either.

    But the real problem with voting is that people who vote, really still live in the phantasy that they somehow can have an influence on politics, that somehow, we are the government. The reality is, it does not matter for liberty who is in power. It matters to the people in power, who is in power. It has a great influence on their lives. But the UK state, like every other state will grow, no matter who is in power. That is what states do. They are a separate organism, that is independent of who is in charge. The UK state will grow, until it cannot grow anymore. That is until it has reach the peak of the laffer curve and the peak of debt. At that point it will shrink. And it will shrink, even if socialists are in power.

    Focusing your energy to elections, means to waste your energy in a con game. That energy is better spend in trying to wake people up, creating alternatives to state solutions, or simply make your very own life more free. Asking your masters for permission, is not a very good strategy for liberty.

    • Apr 15, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      Nico, what do you suppose would happen if the number of spoilt ballots exceeded the turnout for the liberal democrats? That is, if spoilt ballots got up to 5% or 10%? What if mandatory voting was passed and the number rose yet further?

      That would show that for many the system has no legitimacy and that they have thought about it and give a shit. At the moment, whenever turnout is discussed, it is assumed that the bulk of missing votes are attributable to not caring. Efforts are then made to explain the system, and make it seem more relevant, not to reform its nature fundamentally or to seek new players.

      A spoilt ballot shows you care, and that you care not for what is on offer. It would not be possible to believe that nobody cares when 10% are protesting against all players. That shift in attribution from “apathy” to “hostility” would undermine legitimacy much more quickly.

      • Nico Metten
        Apr 15, 2015 at 1:48 pm

        Maybe you are right. But I stick to non voting (not that I can vote in this one anyway). A spoilt ballot sends the message, wrong candidates, but right system. I think the system itself is wrong. I would not vote for a libertarian candidate either. So I am more comfortable not taking part in the process.

  5. Paul Marks
    Apr 15, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Agreed with Mr Ed and Julie on the United States – Senator Rand Paul is sincerely committed to reducing government spending and restoring the Forth Amendment (against a government that is obsessed with violating property rights and civil liberties – which are the same thing).

    As for the United Kingdom – officials look for any excuse to claim that spoilt ballot papers are votes for the Labour Party (I have seen this many times).

    • Apr 15, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Interesting Paul. Is there a way of spoiling a ballot that will mean it cannot be abused as such?

    • Julie near Chicago
      Apr 15, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      I dunno about the UK (unless people are people everywhere), but all those hanging chads were most certainly votes for AlBore.

  6. Ken Ferguson
    Apr 15, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    The act of voting legitmises the system of government in which you are participating and, by extension, the implicit violence of the state. By exercising your vote, you are tacitly entering into a contract with the system which government then uses to justify their oppression of the individual.

    “We are entitled to regulate, tax and imprison you because the majority elected us to do so”.

    Even by voting “none of the above” you are implying that there is someone else you would be happy to have govern you. If you are a libertarian, don’t do it, even if they make voting compulsory in the future.

  7. Apr 15, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I think Simon is mistaken about this. I explain why – in plain English, I might add – here: https://strictliberalism.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/a-comment-on-spoiled-ballots/

  8. Julie near Chicago
    Apr 15, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Simon also writes,

    “I take seriously the idea that voting legitimises the process of democracy and implies a sanction on the use of political force over the minority….”

    Apparently most of the commenters agree with this. But: ANY form of government has ‘the use of “political force” [whatever that is…??] over the [entire populace, and not just the “minority”].’

    Now note that this specifically refers to the form of government, rather than to the specific persons comprising the government at any particular time.

    This fact, assuming we know what “political force” means, is the basic argument of what I will call the “individualist anarchists.”

    Furthermore, many people argue that anyone who puts up with any particular government, anyone who goes along with it, anyone who acquiesces to it, “sanctions” it and thereby legitimatizes it. They view this as true even when the price of not so doing is the lives of oneself and one’s loved ones, as for instance under the regime of Mao or Khadaffi or (as some claim) Woodrow Wilson/Bill Clinton/the Sith, and everyone in between.

    Actually, to refrain from voting adds to the perceived legitimacy of whichever government wins the election, and implies a sanction on whatever “political force” it chooses to use over the populace or any segment thereof.

    That is assuming the government is chosen by some variant of a democratic means.

    . . .

    In any case, the quote raises the main question once again, and I have NEVER seen it properly addressed:

    What process or method of choosing government would be preferable to the best of the democratic methods?

    And why?

    . . .

    • Apr 15, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      Refraining from voting legitimises whichever party wins – you didn’t raise any objections when you had the chance, did you? And so does voting for the winning party – you voted for them didn’t you? And so does voting for a losing party – you agreed to the abide by the “rules of the game”, didn’t you?

      In a democracy, everyone is a democrat, everyone supports the ruling party. This should be more concerning than it apparently is.

      • Julie near Chicago
        Apr 16, 2015 at 2:09 am

        Rocco gets it.

        Which is probably why Rocco is an anarchist.

        Anarchism could provide at least a theoretical solution, except that the nature of humans I think prevents a stable condition of anarchy.

        However, I would be most interested to see a careful, complete definition of “anarchy” or “anarchism” from Rocco and from others who also use the term; since bitter experience teaches us that different people understand different things by the same word. And it could well be that some people who use the term mean a political system which IS stable.

  9. Apr 16, 2015 at 10:12 am

    A vote for “none of the above” is a request for “someone else above”. The politician’s response is to try and be that “someone”. Here we come face-to-face with the problem of democracy: politicians must “do something” to attract votes.

    An increase in votes for a party famous for offering to “shrink the size of the state” sends a (fairly) clear signal. Likewise, an increase of votes for a party offering “higher public spending and investment in infrastructure”. Naturally the size of the increase, its value to potential governments, may or may not be worth a party changing its policies for: if it is they will, if it’s not they won’t.

    An increase in voters spoiling their ballots, on the other hand, sends no clear message at all to politicians; it doesn’t matter why you spoilt your ballot, only that it is spoilt. You are not happy with what politicians are doing – this is obvious. What is not obvious is what the conscientious politician must do to appease you. But he must “do something”, and he will grope around in the dark, as it were, offering this and promising that, with no way to know when he should stop, desperately trying to “win back the trust of the electorate”. This hardly seems conducive to reducing the size and scope of government.

    • Apr 16, 2015 at 11:02 am

      The strategy suggested above is not universally applicable dogma, it is contextual, it particular if there later existed a trustworthy libertarian or anarchist party then I would suggest voting for that.

      Anarchists, frankly, should start a party so that clearly interpretable votes can be cast.

  10. Mr Ed
    Apr 16, 2015 at 11:48 am

    “Send a message that you care, and what is on offer is not what you wanted.”

    Only those counting the votes and seeing the ballot paper would know of what was written on your paper. It should be noted that a spoilt ballot may simply be regarded generally as a sign of stupidity or carelessness on the part of the voter. It would however, register in the count, unlike a non-vote, the latter would probably be used to argue for State funding of political parties ‘to increase democratic engagement’ or some other justification for theft and pork. (I do think that advocating State funding for political parties should be a capital offence, not retrospectively obviously, it’s not malice on my part, just revulsion.).

    And if one does estimate highly the average voter, remember that a candidate standing as a ‘Literal Democrat’ in an EU Parliamentary election got over 10,000 votes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Huggett

  11. Apr 16, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Having been at a ballot count and seen the spoilt votes they are a hiding to nothing. You may aswell graffiti a wall for the amount of interest that is taken for spoilt ballots. There were 37 spoilt votes at Corby in Nov 2012. No one gave a rats arse about them in the media. Unless you are Banksy forget it. The best way to vote is to vote for a candidate you believe in. If there appears not to be one then raise £500 and get yourself on. At least then you can vote for yourself ( if you live in the constituency) And voting for yourself is not a wasted vote.

    • ZachCope
      Apr 16, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      There is a problem in that many liberty minded people have quite different versions of what this looks like in terms of policy.
      It is however far more honest to stand as your own party, with the policies you believe in, yet with the possibility of linking in some kind of national liberaloanalibertariomarketfreedom alliance.
      The ballot paper would then have an option or best guest signal without having to stand for a national party.
      £500 can be raised.

      This democracy lark is all rather unsatisfactory though.

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