I first learned this when I traveled to the famed Inca ruins of Machu Picchu more than 10 years ago. At that time, a rigged election had left the country in political turmoil and the president who orchestrated the fraudulent vote had fled the country by midnight flight to avoid arrest.
A few days ago, I returned from a second trip to Peru and “The Lost City of the Incas.” The political climate was significantly calmer this time around, but I thought often about how Peru’s democracy differs from that of the United States.
Perhaps the single most interesting difference is the fact that voting is compulsory in Peru. Those who violate the law are subject to fines and penalties. Moreover, voters are given a stamped card proving they have voted and are required to carry that card for several months following elections in order to receive certain public goods and services.
Some have argued that mandatory voting ought to be implemented in the United States as a way of increasing voter turnout, enfranchising minority populations and holding elected officials to a greater degree of accountability.
All of these reasons are nice sentiments, but a law requiring people to vote runs counter to the very freedoms established within the Constitution.
Indeed, the right to vote also includes the right not to vote. And the latter is a right I will freely exercise on Election Day.
This is both a personal and professional choice and one that I am not advocating, but merely expressing.
As a journalist who covers government and politics for the Sparks Tribune, it is important to me that readers trust in my apolitical coverage and observations of candidates, officeholders and elections. I strive to draw a curtain between my personal political beliefs and my professional responsibilities to fairness and accuracy in reporting.
I also choose not to vote because I believe that neutral observers and unbiased documenters of history are necessary for democracies to reach their full potential and aspirations. There must be a segment of the population, however small, whose participation in the political process amounts to impartial recorder so that, hopefully, truth can rise through the cracks of opinion and belief.
Of course, as a Nevada resident, the ballot provides me an opportunity to vote for “none of the above.” But a vote of no confidence is still a vote.
So I will abstain from casting a ballot so long as I cover elections at the Sparks Tribune. On the one hand, I intend for this act to lend credibility to my political reporting. On the other hand, and in my own high-minded, perhaps futile way, it is a choice meant to convey the very nature of Constitutional rights and the fruition of the democratic ideal.
Some might say that if I don’t vote then I don’t have a voice. But if you’ve read this far then you know just how untrue such a criticism rings.
I’ll see you around.
Joshua H. Silavent is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org