IF YOU'VE HEARD IT ONCE, you've heard it a thousand times: It's your civic duty to vote. Between now and Election Day – unless you're planning an extended session in a sensory-deprivation tank – you'll no doubt hear it again. And again.
Don't believe it. It's not your duty to vote.
Not that I'm against voting. I was 9 when I first saw the inside of a voting booth. It was Election Day, 1968. My father took me with him early in the morning when he went to vote and let me pull the lever for his candidate -- Hubert H. Humphrey. (My mother cast her ballot later that day for Richard M. Nixon.) Once I turned old enough to vote I became an Election Day regular. My candidates don't usually win, and even those who do routinely disappoint me in office. Still, "don't vote – it only encourages them" has never been my philosophy.
As a father I've taken my own children with me to the polls. In 2004 my then-7-year-old wondered why so many people were standing in line to vote, when there was no law requiring them to do so and no doubt about which presidential candidate would carry our state. Part of the reason, I told him, is that many people like to vote. We relish the egalitarian ritual of Election Day – citizens of every rank coming together as equals to peacefully choose their leaders. Even when the outcome is a foregone conclusion, voting is an act of democratic self-government that many Americans enjoy being part of.
But plenty of other Americans don't feel that way. Tens of millions of eligible voters routinely sit out national elections, and there is no legitimate basis for scorning them. Quite the contrary. Though it may be unfashionable to say it, there are perfectly sound reasons not to vote.
For one thing, your vote almost certainly won't matter.