Existentialism and voting go together like freedom and responsibility

Yes, it’s another election day.

Are you planning on voting? Maybe, maybe not? Feeling like it won’t matter?

Well, you’re probably not alone. The polls and pundits believe that voter turnout is going to be low today.  The diagnosis will be apathy.

130 million people turned out to vote in 2008, estimated to be 64% of the electorate. That’s pretty good. This year these numbers are expected to drop.

Do potential voters really just not care or is there more to this?

Apathy is a lack of interest or concern, so voter apathy is a lack of interest or concern for voting…but is it that simple?

There are numerous reasons why people don’t show up at the polls. I can list a few that I have recently heard

  1. Feelings as if the political process is ineffective
  2. Personal political values not represented by voting options
  3. We have no choices
  4. We have no time
  5. There are more important things I need to take care of today
  6. Voting won’t impact my paycheck or whether I can eat today
  7. …I forgot


I’ve heard so many versions of these that they kind of all sound the same, but each one of the has a flavor of cynicism, indifference or apathy and each one of these states of mind can lead a person to chose not to participate in this years elections.

We tend to frame that choice as a political one – the impact that a vote, or lack of a vote, will have on the political process.  But of course there’s a psychological component too, even an existential one:  what kind of person are you going to be?  What kind of person does voting make you?  Not voting?

Both voting and not voting certainly represent the existential condition of freedom:  you are free to choose to vote or not vote, and either way you are equally free. 

The idea that we are too busy with work, school, family and life is a red herring: we chose to participate in all of these things. We are just as free, as unconstrained, to choose voting.  You are no less or more free for making any of these decisions:  even a decision to refuse to participate is still a decision. 

But freedom and choice are just one side of the existential coin:  the other is responsibility.  You cannot have freedom without responsibility.  If we make a choice to take a particular action or in this case inaction, then we must take the responsibility for what happens.

At this level, voting and not voting are not equal.  Not voting is an attempt to have freedom without responsibility:  to step back and say “whatever happens next is not my fault.”  It’s nice to think we could opt out this way – but as long as you’re free you can never opt out of responsibility.  Instead of being less responsible, refusing to vote shackles you to the decisions others have made:  you stood aside and let it happen. 

Perhaps in the quick-fix society that we live in it’s not surprising that people believe they can have freedom without responsibility, and that they therefore don’t need to vote. 

Voting is more than just a process it’s a way of being in our society.  Whatever you decide to do today…voting or not…embrace your freedom of choice knowing that this is who you are… and understand that your choice today may change your life in ways that you can’t see yet.  It may be wonderful, it may be bad, or it may be nothing…but it will be you living and being in your life, and your responsibility.

 – Makenna Berry



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