Abstaining Voters: A Stain on Democracy?

By Bear Higgins, Deputy News Editor

3:30 AM. Millions of Americans rub their eyes to stay awake. You watch as one by one, individual states are called for each candidate. The future of America is being decided in a single night. Starting on the east coast, a mix of blue and red paint the separate states. Sometimes the decision comes immediately, sometimes hours, even days or weeks in some cases. Even though every state matters, the election tends to come down to swing states. These states are the focus of the election, and candidates spend the majority of their resources on those states.

North Carolina was a key swing state and over the election season we have been bombarded with a series of attack ads from both sides of the aisle. In the end, Trump pulled an impressive victory in North Carolina; a state that had been called by many news organizations like Fox News, or CNN as a leaning Clinton state. With North Carolina, he also clinched Florida and Ohio, states he needed to win. He pulled off a stunning upset and even grabbed Pennsylvania, stunning all the pollsters. But what gave him this victory? What about this election threw off all the professional pollsters? The answer may be in the abstaining vote.

What does it mean to abstain? History and Civics teacher, Mr. Wiley, helps answer the questions you may have.

“To abstain means to decline to exercise one’s right to vote. Though it seems to coincide with apathy in many respects, abstaining can certainly be an assertion of a lack of faith in the electoral process as well,” Wiley said.

People can have many reasons for not voting. Whether it be they don’t care, or other reasons, not voting can be the same as voting in some cases. For example, in especially volatile elections (some may consider this election) voters are torn between two candidates they don’t really like. As a result, some turn to abstaining.

“I believe it is your civic duty to vote, and everybody who is able to should [vote],” senior and voter, Ben Burrows said.

Like Ben, many argue that we do not have a right to vote, but an obligation. Nevertheless abstaining provides a relief for some, for they feel they do not carry the guilt of voting for a bad candidate. This narrows the electorate down to the dedicated voter base of both parties. This may help explain the mistake by pollsters. Just because someone is leaning toward a candidate does not mean they are going to vote that way.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton led support of the Abstaining voter base 37%, to 27% on Donald Trump. If a small number of those abstainers decided to vote, the election could easily have gone the other way. This has led to questioning of our electoral college by many across the nation, some using protest to express their opinion, and others engaging in constructive dialogue.

“Abstaining voters diminish the electorate.  As such, it is entirely possible for a minority of the electorate to be a majority among those who actually vote,” Wiley said. “I tend to think that it weakens democracy when the public policy for all is left to the general will of fewer citizens.”

Others argue that despite the age of the electoral college, it serves a clear purpose to represent all states so heavy populated areas do not control the election. But who knows, electoral college attacks could easily be flipped if it was the other way around. Perhaps we will have to wait for things to calm down before the political lines fade and we can come together constructively as a nation.

Photo from Flickr