Is It Anyone’s Business If You Don’t Vote?

Should it be anyone's business if you vote?

Ann Althouse is slightly perturbed about a piece of mail [Image here] that she received from some group calling itself the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.  As you can see from the image of the mailing, it purports to be a list of people within Althouse’s neighborhood and indicates whether or not they have voted in the last several elections. Althouse writes:

I obscured names and addresses, but be assured, this was a list of real names and addresses of people who live near me, with the information about whether they voted in the last 2 elections. This is an effort to shame and pressure people about voting, and it is truly despicable. Your vote is private, you have a right not to vote, and anyone who tries to shame and an harass you about it is violating your privacy, and the assumption that I will become active in shaming and pressuring my neighbors is repugnant.

Not voting is a valid choice. If you don’t have a preference in the election, don’t vote. If you think no one deserves your vote, don’t vote.

There is, of course, nothing illegal about what this group is doing. In Wisconsin, as in I believe every other state, the voter rolls are a matter of public record and, given that much of this data is electronic, it isn’t that difficult at all to come up with lists of people who did and didn’t give as well as what party primary they might have voted in . Indeed, political campaigns often use this data to target their direct mail campaigns to voters likely to be receptive to the same. After all, there’s no point in wasting money on mailers to someone who’s never voted in a Republican primary if you’re a Republican running in a primary. As a matter of law, then this group hasn’t done anything illegal in coming up with this mailing campaign and in engaging what is, essentially, an effort to shame people into voting.

However, it’s often the case that just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.

Assuming that it didn’t land in the garbage before being read like all my other junk mail does, I would feel pretty much the same way that Althouse does about this mailer. Not so much because of the fact that they have access to the data, after all that’s public information, although I am a bit uncomfortable about the way it exposes names and addresses to the public . What really bothers me about the manner is the way that it tries to shame people into voting with a sentence like “After the June 5th election, public records will tell everyone who voted and who didn’t.” It sounds some what like a veiled threat that if you don’t vote, whether you want to or not, your neighbors are going to hear about it. Like Althouse says, it’s an effort to shame people about voting despite the fact that a person’s vote is their own business and they have the right not to vote if that’s what they choose to do. I really don’t want any of my neighbors coming up to me and saying “Gee Doug, why didn’t you vote last November,” because, you know what, it’s really none of their business.

The “good government” and “everyone should vote” crowds no doubt love doing stuff like this, but it really does strike me as somewhat creepy in the  end, and even a little totalitarian. We do not, thankfully, live in a nation like Australia where people either have to vote or pay a fine, and there is, I would submit, something inherently wrong about trying to shame people into voting. Wisconsin in particular has been a political hot bed for a year now, and it’s doubtful that there’s anyone left in the state who isn’t aware of the choices before them next week. If they want to vote on Tuesday, they will. If they don’t, they won’t Whatever choice they make is nobody’s business but their own.


FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    I don’t like this at all.

    However voting records are public records, and the public has demanded that government make as much information as possible available to the public. This is an entirely predictable outcome. Full transparency comes with a cost. Many of the people who demand full transparency do not imagine that government public records will be used against them.

    I have never missed a vote, ever. That said, I do not believe that people are any more or less virtuous in a civic sense if they do vote.

  2. walt moffett says:

    Next will probably be a mail out with a list of neighbors who voted in the other party’s primary, whether or not public employee, possible salary, property tax paid, etc. Will make for some interesting times.

  3. John Burgess says:

    What the geniuses at Greater Wisconsin Political Fund don’t seem to take into account is that not voting can be a form of vote in itself. It’s saying, “None of the Above” in any party, in any race.

    While much (too much) information is available through public records, it’s a different matter when one has to do the gathering and collating oneself and when it appears in your mailbox, already framed within a political discourse, and shrouded in what could be construed as a threat.

  4. John Peabody says:

    I’ve always voted…many absentee ballots from overseas while in the Army… But I missed one vote. And that ba$terd Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota. I take the blame for this; I haven’t missed a vote since.

  5. jan says:

    The ‘shame factor,’ that you brought up, is subtle coercion, IMO, a tactic that is frequently used by social progressives in either pushing an ideological concept, or moving public opinion/discourse in the way they want to direct it. It’s similar to being a traffic cop, except in the political arena.

    Basically, social progressives feed off of psychological warfare and social engineering. Their goals are to make people uncomfortable, by gently bending the political correctness of an act, a word, and if they could read minds, even thoughts. In this instance, it deals with shaming people to vote.

    Althouse assumes that many of the people they are projecting this kind of campaign literature towards are democrats, who are not enthused about this WI race. Polls done show that people backing Walker are more motivated than the anti-Walker people.

  6. Jas says:

    The other side uses the same tactics, as we saw in the fear mongering of the public after the 9-11 attacks. I doubt most can argue that we have the same amount of freedoms that we did before that incident, and many of those initiatives were lead by republican figureheads.

    I think it would be easier to call these types of events general political tactics instead of trying to blame it all on one party.

  7. Nikki says:

    Althouse is complaining, so of courwse it’s a lefty organization.

  8. jan says:


    “think it would be easier to call these types of events general political tactics instead of trying to blame it all on one party. “

    I agree with your first comment, about fear tactics following 911. A good example of that would be the passage of the Patriot Act — another piece of legislation, like the healthcare act, that people didn’t read.

    However, IMO, the scales of theatre and psych-ops, if you will, weighs in with bigger percentages on the democratic side of strategy implementation.

  9. Gina says:

    I received one of these flyers. It was addressed to a previous resident of this house who moved out of the state three years ago. Anyway, I don’t appreciate the attempt at intimidating/shaming/harassing neighbors. No wonder a lot of people don’t want to vote. Right now, I don’t feel like doing it, either.

  10. Dazedandconfused says:

    Full agreement on the creepiness of this. The part of talking to people about their neighbors is just beyond the pale. If I was borderline on voting for one candidate or another, whose campaign was engaging in this would lose my vote.

    However, tangentially, I would adopt Australia’s mandatory voting laws in a heartbeat, based on a belief that our political system is in no small part rendered as silly as it is by the need to “get out the vote” with focus on fringe wedge issues. This is also a factor in the need for massive amounts of money to be in the game.

    Shaming people into voting is very much ‘fair dinkum”, in my view, even using fines. Freedom isn’t free and it takes an engaged population to have a functional Republic, but talking to people specifically about their neighbors is neither smart nor ethical. Stinks.

  11. ernieyeball says:

    @Dazedandconfused: “..even using fines.”

    Oh Yeah? How much are these fines going to be? I wanna know!
    How are you gonna know if I voted or not? Are you gonna demand that I present to you my Voters Registration Card and most recent Certificate of Voter Participation on request? Then when I refuse are you gonna’ file some sort of complaint with the Police so they arrest me?
    Screw You…I’m not showin’you nuthin!
    Leave me the Fuk alone!

  12. Dave E. says:

    @Dazedandconfused: We already spend a ridiculous amount of time and effort trying to get people who are uninterested, uninformed, and/or just downright lazy to the polls. It has always been a mystery to me why it is so damned important that such people vote. Let’s put our efforts toward helping those who want to vote but need a little assistance. The rest can vote or not vote, I don’t care.

    As far as the mailing that Althouse got, yes it’s a little creepy even though it’s legal. If I got one of those it would motivate me to vote alright, against the people who sent it.

  13. bk says:

    So move to Florida, Ann – maybe you’ll get purged from the voter rolls and won’t be getting mailings like this.

  14. DRE says:

    I’m not so sure it is even legal. I often work with this type of information in California, but I always have to sign an agreement that limits the uses of the data, and sending lists of names and addresses to people who are in no way subject to those agreements would almost certainly be considered a violation.

  15. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave E.:

    Point is that in the Australian system, those ridiculous efforts are not needed.

  16. Dazedandconfused says:



  17. ernieyeball says:

    @Totally Confused
    If you are going to leave me alone then you have to stop advocating for laws that will fine me for not voting.

  18. Dave E. says:

    @Dazedandconfused: “…those ridiculous efforts are not needed.”

    Or they still are, it’s just that they are redirected to monitoring and enforcement.

    I still don’t see the point in compelling people to vote. It’s not as though you can compel them to be interested and informed as well. So you got somebody who doesn’t know anything about the election and doesn’t care into the voting booth. Now what? They guess maybe? Or perhaps a non-vote? Just what did society gain by that?

  19. ernieyeball says:

    @Dave E.: Mr. Confused is a Control Freak. So is everyone else that wants to force citizens to vote.

  20. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave E.:

    That article I provided a link to explained the advantages, one being:

    “Because everyone has to vote, there’s no need to spend a billion dollars to inflame passions and divide the electorate just so that people will pick a side and care enough to fill in a ballot come November.”

    I kind of like that idea.

    A large factor in the ability to cast fraudulent ballots is the fact that a very large percentage of registered voters do not bother to vote.

  21. Dave E. says:

    @Dazedandconfused: Even assuming that the author at that link is correct about compulsory voting in Australia, I’m not convinced that it would have the same result here in the US. For one thing, they don’t have fixed election dates like we do and when they do need to call an election, it has to be done within 140 days i think. That’s a pretty short election season and has to account for a large chunk of their lower spending. For another, their prime minister doesn’t really compare to our president in how he or she gets into office or the scope of power once there.

    I guess it’s possible that some spending would go down with compulsory voting, but I don’t think it would be significant. Each election there would still be trillions of dollars at stake in tax policy, benefits and other spending, regulations, and everything from energy to health care policy. As long as that’s the case there will be fierce efforts to influence the election from all sides.

  22. ernieyeball says:

    Once again another civic wizard has come up with the bright idea of forcing US Citizens to vote in elections.
    “They do it in Australia!” is the cry. We should do it here.
    Of course no one ever wants to talk about enforcement. Either Mr. Confused wants to check me to see if I have voted or he wants someone else to do it. Most likely the Federal Election Police.
    This will be Federal Legislation of course. It will have to be to coerce all 50 States to throw citizens in jail for not voting and refusing to pay the fine.

  23. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave E.:

    “Assuming” ?

    It’s pretty easy to look up, and they do have regular elections.

    There are several other country’s that also have mandatory voting too.

    I think the near perpetual “campaign season” we have now is unhelpful, myself.

  24. Dave E. says:

    @Dazedandconfused: Assuming the credit he gives to compulsory voting in Australia is true. I’m not actually convinced. And yes, they regularly have elections, but the exact dates are not known in advance like in the US. Combine that with a short time limit before elections must be held and I bet that is a bigger factor in lower campaign spending than compulsory voting.

  25. ernieyeball says:

    “There are several other country’s that also have mandatory voting too.”

    So this is the theory behind legislation in the United States. They do it in other countries.
    Well in Saudi Arabia drunk driving is punished by public flogging. I kind of like that idea.
    Countries such as El Salvador and Bulgaria have gone to the extreme in punishing drunk drivers. In El Salvador, first time DWI offenders are carted off and executed by a firing squad. In Bulgaria, at least they are a little more lenient, as DWI offenders are only executed after they have committed their second DWI offence.
    Sounds like an effective deterrent to me. Let’s do it here. They do it in other countries.

  26. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Dave E.:

    I don’t see how their scheduling differences affects anything in regards to the point I am making. They know elections will occur, within a few weeks, every three years. We do not have the sort of by-elections they have.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @jan: You don’t know much history, do you? Haven’t you read “A Scarlet Letter? Shame and coercion by one’s neighbors has always been used by groups to police behavior. And no matter what you may tell yourself, conservatives do at least as much of it. Where do you think gays are more in the closet–in places that are Red or places that are Blue?

  28. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Countries such as El Salvador and Bulgaria have gone to the extreme in punishing drunk drivers. In El Salvador, first time DWI offenders are carted off and executed by a firing squad. In Bulgaria, at least they are a little more lenient, as DWI offenders are only executed after they have committed their second DWI offence.

    Not that it invalidates your point but: Huh???

  29. ernieyeball says:

    It’s on the internet. It must be true!

  30. ernieyeball says:

    When all you chumps that want to force US Citizens to vote or be punished get to Austrailia you can give the return stub of your round trip ticket to any one who wants to live in a free country!

  31. Dazedandconfused says:

    Our election system is leading to a condition where candidates are selected in party primary’s, and they are run by a small minority of wing-nuts.

    Gates eloquently explained the danger in this memorable speech:

    “I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system—and it is no longer a joking matter. It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country. Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.

    Several developments have put us in this predicament, three of which I would like to highlight in the next couple of minutes.
    First, as a result of a highly partisan redistricting process, more and more seats in the House of Representatives are safe for either the Republican or Democratic Party. As a result,
    the really consequential campaigns are not the mostly lopsided general elections, but the party primaries, where candidates must cater to the most hard-core ideological elements of their

    Mandatory voting will do little good unless it is also extended into our primary system. This would require some serious re-working of that process. I think it could be a hell of a blow to the two-party monopoly if done right though.

  32. ernieyeball says:

    Mandatory voting will do little good unless it is also extended into our primary system.

    Politics 1 website lists 2 major national political parties; the so called “Big Three” third parties and 34 or so “smaller” third parties. (American Nazi Party, Boston Tea Party, Prohibition Party, US Marijuana Party, I suspect the list is not comprehensive.
    As far as I can tell this does not include the State and Local Political organizations.
    Lets be conservative and add 100 more political parties. Dem. and GOP for each State.
    This totals to 140 independent Political Parties in the US.

    It will be interesting to see how the proposed Federal Legislation will read to undertake the “serious reworking of” the primary “process”. First we will need to define “political party.”
    Then we will have to formulate Federal Laws to dictate to these no longer independent organizations that there will no longer be Caucuses and the US Congress in Washington DC will dictate dates and times for these no longer local elections.
    In order to escape punishment for not voting in these Mandatory Primary Elections citizens will be coerced into joining Political Parties they may not want to be a member of.
    There will no longer be Independent voters. It is pretty obvious that voters will have to publicly declare a Political Party at the Polls to vote in these Forced Primaries.
    And of course we can all sleep better at night knowing that there will be Federal punishments of fines and jail terms for those bums who just refuse to go along with being pressed into balloting.
    Maybe the jails will be full of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    God Bless America

  33. Mary says:


  34. ernieyeball says:


    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    There is no requirement in the First Amendment to the US Con that a citizen must vote to speak freely in the United states. However you are free to work to change the First Amendment to your own liking. In the meantime, stop trying to control other peoples speech.