Let me start by saying that yes, I did vote in the election, and yes, I do think that voting is important. I've seen my fair share of voting webinars, infographics, and social media posts encouraging people to vote, and I certainly commend the efforts of voting activists in mobilizing more voters, especially for this past election. What I haven't appreciated quite as much is the countless posts and statements attempting to shame people who chose not to vote or voted third party, particularly those that attempt to use these tactics to get people to vote for a certain candidate.
I'm sure most of us have seen posts stating something along the lines of "choosing not to vote is a privilege." I do understand the premise behind statements like this one and I do agree, to some extent, that remaining completely detached from politics can be a sign of privilege. However, statements like these quickly devolve into shaming or even insulting those who didn't vote, denouncing them for being privileged, for being supposedly self-righteous, for not caring -- some have even gone as far as concluding that anyone who didn't vote or those who voted third-party are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. I'm sure there are some people who believe that this type of shaming will motivate people to vote, but I would argue that this behavior does the opposite -- overall, shaming is never a completely effective tactic to actually motivate people to make a sustained effort.
On the other end of voter shaming, those who chose not to vote in particular now have to fear being judged by those around them. This shaming is counterintuitive, as the likely effect is not exactly that they will suddenly feel motivated to vote: why should they vote for any candidate, when that candidate's supporters go to such lengths to judge and sometimes insult them? Shaming these people won't accomplish anything. Instead, it simply alienates a group of people that candidates and their followers, if they really wanted the support of more voters, should be appealing to and engaging with -- after all, it's the people who haven't decided on that candidate who need to be convinced, not people who've already made their decision. Are these non-voters -- who are likely also undecided voters -- not the same people who could impact the results of an election if they were to be convinced, not scared, into voting? Should the goal not be to gain the sustained support of these people rather than alienating them in this way? The fact is that you can't win the support of any group if you immediately start by shaming them.
It's also worthwhile to take a look at why people choose not to vote rather than just dismissing their decision as "self-righteous" or whatever else people have come up with. These non-voters are likely people who are disillusioned with the two-party system, who, especially in the case of the presidential election, don't feel that either party really cares for their interests and deserves their support. Maybe we should actually open both parties up to valid criticism instead of just completely dismissing non-voters and telling them that they absolutely have to vote for one party or the other: from being exposed mainly to communities of Democrats, I've seen far too many people going the "vote blue, no matter who" route and insisting that we all need to vote for Democrats, as if we can't criticize the party and consider a future outside of the two-party system.
What's particularly dangerous is the portrayal of the large divide between the two parties: again, from my own experience, I can say that many of the people around me talk about the Democratic Party as if it's completely different from the Republican Party and definitively more "moral." I will agree, being someone who votes Democrat, that one is definitely more progressive than the other, but we also have to open up our own party for criticism. There are ways in which the Democratic Party is not quite as great as some may make it out to be -- let's not forget, for example, when Barack Obama drank the water in Flint and claimed that the people (even the children) of Flint would be fine, when Obama more recently broke up the NBA strike and instead claimed that a social justice "task force" would somehow solve the problem, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' resistance to banning fracking and defunding the police. I know that, at the very least, many people in my circle have shown interests that actually run counter to those of the same prominent Democrats that they support -- and yet they refuse to accept criticism of Barack Obama or Kamala Harris the same way they accept criticism of Republican lawmakers.
Issues like these in the Democratic Party are why I have trouble accepting this black-and-white view of voting versus choosing not to vote. So many of the people I see borderline shaming non-voters are the same people who push the narrative that this huge divide between the two parties exists, that push back against criticism of their own party and deflect with their opinions of the opposing party. It's these same people who look at how close the election was and whose only takeaway is that the United States is simply a racist nation (yes, but it absolutely occurs on both sides -- albeit likely less openly on the part of the Democratic Party) filled with irredeemable people without thinking that maybe Joe Biden didn't exactly do a very good job of campaigning either. The fact is that non-voters simply were not convinced, nor did either campaign engage with them enough to motivate them to vote -- and this is something that we should take a close look at rather than just dismissing these people's decisions. Why is it that so many people are left feeling uninspired and disillusioned by our two-party system?
I'm not saying that voting is definitively good or bad, nor would I ever discourage anyone from voting. What I am saying is that instead of immediately shaming and criticizing non-voters, we should actually take the time to listen to them and understand their interests and motivations. Instead of blindly condemning these people, maybe what we really need to do is ask ourselves why both parties, even the one that we continuously portray as "good," have failed to engage the same people that they're supposed to serve.