The deeper problem is that we simultaneously expect too much and too little of casting a ballot. See, for instance, actress Lena Dunham’s “5 Reasons Why I Vote (and You Should Too)” on Planned Parenthood’s website. Reason No.1: “When you vote, you feel so, so good.” “You will have the best day just because you voted,” she says. “I wore fishnets and a little black dress to vote, then walked around with a spring in my slinky step. It lasted for days. I can summon it when I’m blue. It’s more effective than exercise or ecstasy or cheesecake….”
Of all the reasons to vote, using ballots as a balm to cure low self-esteem has to be the most pathetic. But it is reason No. 5 that gets to the heart of the problem. Dunham says that “voting is kind of a gateway drug to ‘getting involved.'”
This is a widely held view and, as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no truth to it. But even if voting boosted civic participation, the very idea puts the cart before the horse. It is like saying you should buy a car because that way you might learn to drive or take the test and then study for it. Voting should come at the end of civic engagement, not the beginning.