Why We Do Not Vote

The following article was written by Dyer Lum and published The Alarm, October 31, 1885.

Another election is at hand. Again the seductive voice of the politician is heard appealing to ignorance to establish justice. It is not new to our ears; we once trusted it. We have fully realized the emptyness of its professions. What do we gain? Setting aside what the ballot might do, have we any certainty that our ballots will be counted? New York last year settled the presidential question by giving its vote to Cleveland by a narrow margin. How many illegal votes were cast? How many were bought? How many were suppressed?

Take the late election in Ohio. Fraud is evident in Cincinnati. Would a fair vote have changed the result? No one knows. The old woman whose horse ran away trusted in providence till the britching broke. But one political britching is already terribly strained and cracking. We may safely lay down certain conclusions as evident.

  1. Ballots are not always counted.
  2. They may be fraudulently counted.
  3. They may be outnumbered by “bunched” ballots, as in Ohio.
  4. Even under the fairest conditions they cannot solve economic problems.
  5. Successful politics is an art where honesty has as little chance as at a horse show thimble rig game.

But, it is alleged, that as both sides resort to fraud, the chances are equal. That is, politics is a game of cards, in which only the best trumps win. Like a game also “we the people” are needed to constitute the rest of the pack, so that the gamblers may be enabled to deal out stacked hands. Suppose we refuse to be longer shuffled for their amusement! The hollow pretense would collapse at once; the court cards couldn’t carry on the game alone. But if we stay away the less number will settle the election! “O, ye of little faith!” Abstention from the polls would also have other effects.

  1. It would show an increasing minority refusing to be hoodwinked. We can imagine a jackass following a wisp of hay fastened before him out of his reach, but not an illusory wisp visible only to the eye of faith.
  2. It will prick the bubble of suffrage by showing that there are questions to be met beyond the province of the ballot. As long as we follow the political wisp it will continue to dangle before us. When we refuse to do so in numbers sufficient to make an appreciable minority, attention will be arrested.
  3. A minority refusing to vote would force economic questions into consideration, and thus hasten the social revolution. Only when political methods are seen to be unavailing will they be abandoned. Balloting is a method under a political system which presupposes the continuance of existing economic conditions. Suffrage is already fast reaching its term. It is among the breakers of our present partial competition. Let the gamblers fight it out. Let us not delay the inevitable by trying to postpone its advent.

One word more. We are told “if you would only stick together you can win and carry any man in.” This is the Salvation Army argument: “Think as I do and you will be saved.” First, it is impossible; second, we don’t want to try to bring all men to peek through one magnifying glass; third, we have no candidates whom we desire to take the oath to the constitution of our Economic republic before they can begin to think of us. To vote is to continue existing methods and thus give our influence to postpone the day of emancipation. Isn’t it about time to “swear off?”

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