I’ve heard quite a bit about voting the past couple weeks. It’s your civic obligation. Make your voice heard. If you do not vote, you are apathetic and have no right to your opinions. If you do not take the time to educate yourself on the issues and cast an informed ballot, you will have committed an unparalleled sin against democracy. Oh, and by the way, Governor Malloy has a far superior record on jobs.

This kind of rhetoric is more than disrespectful; it is fundamentally counterproductive to healthy political engagement. Our commonplace vilification of perceived indifference reveals a dangerous attitude toward voting that devalues the responsibility democracy ultimately entails.

Equating a failure to vote with moral apathy is pure non sequitur. I personally disagree with the decision to not vote as a way to express disenchantment with current political norms. I think to not vote is to resign oneself to the hands of electoral caprice. But to say political abstinence disbars one from a right to hold opinions is absurd.

I question the sanity of whoever believes our current system is anything close to a healthy paradigm of democracy. It’s one thing to dispute the logic of abstention, another to contemptuously brand its proponents apathetic. For some, the act of not voting constitutes a kind of civic engagement unto itself, a refusal to make an unconscionable endorsement of a broken political environment.

That is not my view. But those who subject this position to vitriolic invective are frighteningly optimistic about the challenges of making an informed decision.

Even the most militant Facebook apologia usually recognizes the importance of coming to an educated conclusion — but what happens when you do your research and just can’t decide? Self-assured dogmatists may try to explain away this uncertainty by saying no two candidates are ever equal. But that misses the point. It is entirely possible for someone to weigh the facts and still feel unsure of their judgment, to the point he or she questions the wisdom of casting a vote. That is humility, not apathy.

Perhaps this person could have come to a decision with more research. But if one has not yet come to decision, has a problem set due the next
day and is organizing an a cappella concert for charity, one may think it best to just let more qualified citizens head to the polls. I do not claim this is always the right decision, but it is certainly understandable. Far from signifying apathy, not voting in this case demonstrates principled restraint and suggests an appreciation of the ballot’s power.

Never mind the presumption that everyone has unlimited time. Never mind that indifference between two candidates is not the same as civic apathy. Never mind that most people telling you to vote for whomever you like have already changed their profile picture to Malloy or Foley. There is a more fundamental issue here: democratic levity.

We are so indoctrinated into the cult of democracy that we treat voting like a happy bipartisan celebration and then slander all who demur this glorious festival. But I have a different view.

I think true civic responsibility is impossible without fear.

Votes do matter. They change lives. When you vote, you affect millions of men, women and children. And that should terrify you, the knowledge that if you choose wrong, you could be condemning a family to life on the street. The knowledge that, if you choose wrong, you could be responsible for a bank default or a school shooting.

Bombastic advocates of voting become harmful when they grow blind to the gravitas of their own freedoms. I wonder if some of our “unpatriotic” peers feel frightened to take responsibility for the lives of millions. Maybe they feel unqualified to do so. Maybe they are.

Fear is a dark but necessary ingredient for democracy to flourish. To indict all who stay home on Election Day is social coercion. It promotes an imprudent mode of political engagement antithetical to the core of representative governance.

I sincerely hope all who did vote Tuesday were sweating when they finished. I hope they thought of the lives they bettered or, perhaps, destroyed.

I hope. But I doubt it.

Aaron Sibarium is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at aaron.sibarium@yale.edu.