Nov. 10 2014 04:22 PM

An experiment in not exercising a hard-won fundamental right


On this most recent Election Day, the one that saw the U.S. Senate floor—and those of some governor's mansions and local Podunk cubicles across the country—get scrubbed clean with the asses of Democrats, I did something that pissed off pretty much everyone I know, and a whole bunch of someones I don't: I stayed home (mostly, but more on that in a sec).

Since I came of voting age, I have never not voted. Never. I have shown up to even the puniest of puny primary or special elections. Despite the worst weather, latest work shift or darkest cynicism, I've always voted. I have literally worn nose plugs while checking boxes. But this time, I threw my hands in the air.

Initially, I'd planned to do my not-voting experiment quietly. But then, I don't do much quietly, so instead I turned it into a very public temper tantrum. In case you've never witnessed a temper tantrum, it generally doesn't reflect well on the tantrumer. Not to give away the ending or anything.

On the day before the election, I outed myself in a Facebook post linked to a George Carlin bit from 1980-something, in which he states my current sentiment about The Process. (Russell Brand did this in a BBC interview more recently, though he did it without a masturbation pantomime.) Having suffered through the Bush years—probably the most politically and socially conscious I'd ever been in my life to that point—I've experienced immolating frustration and anger and despair that comes with being wonky; I've threatened before to not vote. However, I've never followed through on that promise, and since I have been especially despondent about the state of things lately, I wanted to see what it would feel like. To be clear, this was a purposeful decision and not an I-had-no-idea-there-was-an-election-yesterday-can't-wait-to-text-my-vote-on-The-Voice apathy. This was me stomping my foot and clenching my fists to say that I'm fed up with this bullshit system.

And it is bullshit

I mean, let's just be real about reality for a quick minute. For their governor, Floridians got to choose between a right-wing Republican and a former right-wing Republican who's now supposed to be trusted as a Democrat, something he came to after he had no success getting elected as an Independent. How many Liebermans does one country need?

Try as they might, Wisconsin cannot relieve itself of the mouth-breathing troglodyte that is Scott Walker, who may well be headed for the 2016 presidential ballot, along with Chris Christie, who, by the way: Bridgegate! And that other Scott (Brown, formerly devoted to Massachusetts, now devoted to New Hampshire) is like herpes. Sure he lost his senatorial bid, but who knows where he'll flare up next to profess his devoted devotion. Maybe he'll do a Carl DeMaio and decide to bless California with his presence. 

Dynasties are the latest It Girl, too. NPR correspondents giggled during their election-night coverage about the many families who continue to spawn successors to power and privilege. Sure, Liz Cheney dropped her bid for the Senate, but plenty of other familiar names (Bush, Udall, Landrieu) will be headed directly for those lifetime health benefits courtesy of voters. And let's not get going on the big money flying around.

In the big scheme of things, I don't think the vile Republican peeps are terrifically different from the vile Democratic peeps. Their vileness is just branded differently. For sure, I think anyone—which is pretty much everyone—who did nothing after 20 children were slaughtered in Connecticut, should be barred from politics for life. 

Nevertheless, it probably shouldn't have surprised me—though it totally did—when my defense of not voting was met with abrupt, pointed, vicious and vehement ballot-box shaming. I was the anti-vaccination activist of the democratic process

One friend said that his grandmother wasn't allowed to vote and that, to him, "not voting is one of the worst things a person can do." Another professed her unending love for me before calling me an asshole in all caps. Another, a comedy genius in her own right, said of Carlin, "Great comic. Shitty citizen." Ouch. 

One poor liberal soul who's hunkered down for the long haul in Idaho lamented her ongoing effort, spending "season after season of trying to oust good ol' boy redneck millionaire officials with shitty policies on everything from guns to gays." And yet another posted a link to a terrifying article about what's at stake. "Is it too late?" she asked. "Can you still go?" 

At that point, I was still flailing on the floor, hair wild, fists pounding, feet kicking, tears flying as I muttered between gasps for air about Citizens United and Sandy Hook and Arne Duncan and all the false choices!

And then.

"I wish you were voting Yes on 47," said a friend whose heartbreak felt as immediate as if it were my own. 

And so it was that I ended my drama, drove to my polling place and voted—albeit on only that one thing, which, predictably, brought down its own torrent of judgment, to which I say, step off. I was there and I exercised my right in my way. 

It did not feel good to not vote. Even without the drubbing, it felt really, really bad, even. It felt wrong. Because who wants to be the asshole—the shitty citizen—who doesn't vaccinate her child

Certainly not me.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.