Bethany Says… Voting: Why I Don’t

I’m a dual national and, every time I travel, I carry two passports: one blue and one maroon. My father is American and through him I claim my American passport and my American citizenship. However, my mother is Scottish and I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in the North East of Scotland. Anyone who’s met me in real life will immediately notice something that casts some doubt on my claim to Scottishness or a North East childhood: I sound as American as apple pie.

Here’s the kicker: I don’t vote.

Or rather, I don’t vote in America. I vote dutifully and regularly here in Scotland as a resident of Aberdeenshire. But, I could potentially register to vote in the state of Oregon. I could have voted in the midterms this past Tuesday, or even in the last presidential elections. I decided, when I  was 18, that it wasn’t ethical for me to vote in a country I felt I had no take in. I never plan to return to America, and although I have some extended family there, I haven’t lived there since I was 4. I didn’t believe I could ethically claim the rights and privileges of an American citizen by voting, especially when I usually deny most American parts of my identity. However, these past midterms have forced me to reconsider my position. Can I continue to abstain when American politics affects us all and I have been given a unique opportunity to add my voice?

I’m especially concerned now that options in American politics become more divided and polarised. Is it fair for me to withhold my lefty, liberal vote when I know millions of right-wing conservatives hell bent on returning American to its glorious sexist, racists and classist past will never withhold theirs? But the American voting system is set up in such a way that I’m worried my vote, cast in a state that’s already heavily Democrat, wouldn’t affect any change. This isn’t just normal non-democratic whining either, but an actual reflection of the changes to American voting practices. Redistricting, also called gerrymandering, is the redrawing of voting districts in an effort to make seats in Congress as safe as possible for individual parties, meaning that opposition votes can barely make a difference. Redistricting has been happening at a ridiculous level for the past several years in American politics, entrenching lines between parties and making change more difficult to achieve. Would my vote mean anything if I did cast it?

I don’t know if I can still make the claim that I don’t have a stake in the future of America. Perhaps when I was 16 and upset about sounding different from everyone else, I could easily repudiate my Americaness and deny myself the privilege of voting. At 21, as I become more aware of the ways in which American politics affects my life here in Glasgow and the lives of everyone else outside the USA, I find it harder to pretend I can afford to turn down the opportunity to participate. America is still one of the most powerful nations on Earth and, at a certain point, everything that the USA government affects me.

I know I will continue to exercise my democratic right here, in the UK, the home of the maroon passport. I’m less sure about the USA or my feelings about my blue passport. I’ve always felt disconnected from the American part of my heritage, the country I barely remember and an extended family I rarely see. The midterms, and the less than optimal result, have shaken my certainty about my stance on voting in the US. Maybe I’ll change my mind in time for the presidential election!

[Bethany Garry – @brgbethany]

2 Comments

  1. good grief – I really should re-read before I post to correct errors and sudden changes in direction mid sentence. Hopefully you get my point in spite of my scattered writing. last line though, should read ” when doing so makes those without principal the unchallenged power holders.”

  2. Interesting thinking, Bethany. I opted out of voting on the Scottish referendum for somewhat similar reasons, feeling that as an American, I didn’t have a legitimate stake (only a very personal financial one, which I didn’t see as a ethical reason to interfere in another country’s important decision on their own autonomy). Others did not share the same scruples and voted for their own personal interests. It does make you wonder if you are doing the right thing (following your principals) when doing so gives those without principal the unchallenged power holders.

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