CHAPTER THREE
Wrongful Voting

IN THIS CHAPTER, I argue that citizens have an obligation not to vote badly. They should abstain rather than pollute democracy with bad votes.

I use “bad voting” as a term of art. By “bad voting,” I do not mean “the kind of voting that by definition one ought not to do.” So, when I say people ought not vote badly, I say something interesting and substantive, rather than something trivial and tautological. I am concerned with two kinds of bad voting, which I label “unexcused harmful voting” and “fortuitous voting.”

Unexcused harmful voting occurs when a person votes, without epistemic justification, for harmful polices or for candidates likely to enact harmful policies. (I discuss what it means for policies to be harmful more in depth in chapter 5.) For example, a person who votes to ban gay marriage because she finds it disgusting would, except in extraordinary circumstances, be guilty of harmful voting. This kind of voting is collectively, not individually, harmful, because individual votes have insignificant expected utility or disutility. Fortuitous voting occurs when citizens vote for what are in fact beneficial policies or candidates likely to enact beneficial policies, but they lack sufficient justification to believe that these policies or candidates are good. In other words, fortuitous voting occurs when a person makes the right choice for the wrong reasons or for no reason at all. For example, suppose David Duke mistakenly believes that (someone who is in fact a good) candidate will impose racist policies, and so Duke votes for that candidate. In this case, Duke voted for the right person, but for the wrong reasons. I argue Duke should abstain instead.

The arguments for why harmful voting and fortuitous voting are wrong are slightly different. I first explain why there is a moral duty not to engage in harmful voting and then explain why there is a moral duty not to engage in fortuitous voting. If I am wrong about one, I might still be right about the other. The upshot is that people have to be justified in believing that the candidates or policies they vote for will promote the common good.

Irresponsible individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly. This thesis may seem antidemocratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters can fail to meet this responsibility. On my

-68-

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The Ethics of Voting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction Voting as An Ethical Issue 1
  • Chapter One- Arguments for a Duty to Vote 15
  • Chapter Two- Civic Virtue without Politics 43
  • Chapter Three- Wrongful Voting 68
  • Chapter Four- Deference and Abstention 95
  • Chapter Five- For the Common Good 112
  • Chapter Six- Buying and Selling Votes 135
  • Chapter Seven- How Well Do Voters Behave? 161
  • Afterword to the Paperback Edition How to Vote Well 179
  • Notes 185
  • References 205
  • Index 213
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