Why I am a political atheist
Have you heard about this amazing new trend? It's called voting. Athletes and musicians I admire are getting into it, including Ice Cube and O.J. Simpson. The NFL wants my family to have a "game plan" for voting, lest we "lose" the biggest game of the year. (Pete Carroll, who headlines the commercial I am describing, once elected to throw the ball at the one yard line into the best secondary in football when he had Marshawn Lynch available to him during the actual biggest game of the year.)
Here is what my offensive coordinator and I drew up: Get through homeschooling quickly on Tuesday morning (first quarter). Hope weather is bad enough that we can't find an excuse to take the children to the park in the afternoon (second quarter) and that the woman whose baby my wife will be helping to deliver soon does not go into labor in the early evening (third quarter). Find time to discover something about the identities of eight or so utterly mysterious persons, two of whom Michiganders are being asked to elect as state judges (fourth quarter). Drive by our designated polling place and see whether the lines are reasonably short (overtime?).
If everything proceeds according to plan, my wife will vote. I may or may not demand a provisional ballot. (My multiple attempts to register online failed for reasons that remain utterly mysterious to me; my city clerk, who does not even reside within the limits of our fair metropolis, appeared unconcerned when I emailed her screenshots from the state registration website urging me to contact her.) But as Coach Carroll knows, a lot can happen in four quarters. I would put the odds that both eligible members of our household actually make it to the polls at somewhere around 25 percent.
Over and over again we are told that voting is the most sacred right enjoyed by Americans. I assume this is a typo. Voting is not a legally defined privilege but a quasi-religious ceremony, which is to say, a "rite." If I vote, it is in the hope of taking part in a sacrament, one whose only outward sign of a dubious and invisible grace is a sticker.
Like the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Rite of Voting has millions of adherents in this country. Many of them are lukewarm "Christmas-and-Easter" voters who take part only in presidential contests. But there are nearly as many non-jurors, at least 100 million in fact. These people range from the political equivalent of the village atheist crank (me) to the mere electorally unchurched, who do not vote because their parents did not vote and no one around them does. Their eyes meet campaign ads on television and social media sometimes with the anger of Richard Dawkins flipping past the 700 Club in his hotel room but more often with the indifference of the person half-aware that his DirecTV package includes the Eternal Word Television Network.
Recusancy is not difficult to justify. For one thing, a single vote is supremely unlikely to affect the outcome even in local elections. "Ah," you say, "but if everyone who argued that voted, the results would in fact be different!" Unfortunately, since the Reform Bill of 1832, purchasing the votes of every eligible elector in common-law jurisdictions has become ruinously expensive. This would not be the case if we adopted a scheme called "Demeny voting" that would allow parents to vote on behalf of their minor children; under such an arrangement by the next presidential election my household would likely have a 6 or 7 to 3.93 advantage over the average American family, and we would skip to the polls whistling the Te Deum.
Meanwhile, the public enthusiasm that surrounds voting is out of all proportion to its actual consequences, to say nothing of its reputed benefits. What you choose to eat for breakfast on Election Day is vastly more likely to have a meaningful effect on your life than your vote for any candidate. I and millions of others cannot remember a single thing that George W. Bush or Barack Obama or Donald Trump have done that improved or even meaningfully altered our lives, but we can remember dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of life-enhancing morning meals eaten in diners or at McDonald's or our own kitchen tables.
For all this we are reminded over and over again of the salutary effects of voting. Consider the following:
. The American Pediatric Association estimates that children of parents who vote perform an average of 37 percent higher on standardized tests and are more likely to report feeling that they are safe at home.
. Voters on average live 17.8 percent longer than non-voters, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
. The non-voting population is 300 times more likely to be overweight and 700 times more likely to be obese than the voting population.
. Non-voters drink inordinate amounts of alcohol, smoke methamphetamine, and murder small cuddly animals at roughly 80 times the rate of the average voter, which is why early voting in accordance with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strongly recommended.
I made up these studies. Like voting, they are a load of bull. But they do capture the actual mental atmosphere of the reflexive pro-voting crowd, who seem to be under the impression that refusing to vote altogether is not just a harmful choice, but something that is likely to kill you.
The thing is, they don't actually mean this. Most of the serial inducements to voting we see are in bad faith. When Reese Witherspoon, Jason Alexander, and Bob the Drag Queen tell me to #JustVote, or a bunch of campus do-gooders hold a voter registration drive in a townie neighborhood, what they are really saying is, "Lend your uncritical support to the Democratic candidate for every office on the ballot." Because the vast majority of non-voters have no strong inclinations for one party or the other, such outreach is roughly as effective as other forms of political advertising.
The flip side of these efforts is, of course, the Republican strategy of discouraging voting altogether by imposing such severe requirements as "Having the same identification you would need to buy a six pack of beer or withdraw money from your bank account" and insisting that would-be voters keep the state apprised of their current addresses. These measures, perhaps far more than any strong feelings (or lack thereof) about the candidates on offer, are the primary reason that I have almost zero chance of taking part in this year's election. Somehow in three and a half years it has not once occurred to me that anything I might be doing — mowing the lawn, reading a crime novel, trying to trick the Oakland Raiders online store into letting me purchase a custom jersey with Jack Tatum's banned number — is less important than walking half a mile to the city clerk's office to drop off a printed form that would take less than 30 seconds to complete.
Perhaps this is why I shouldn't be voting.