Quotations about   election

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If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) American author, academic
McCain’s Promise (2006)
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Added on 6-Jan-22 | Last updated 6-Jan-22
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If pressed to pick a political system, I think that some country or other ought to try jury duty as a way of picking its politicians: if your name gets picked, and you can’t come up with a good enough excuse, you’ll have to give up four or five years of your life to helping run the country, which avoids the main problem of politics as I see it, which is that the kind of people you have to choose between and vote for are the kind of people who actually think that they ought to be running things. If you have a country and want to try this as a political system, let me know how it works out.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“Politics, Portugal and No Gumbo-Limbo Trees,” blog entry (17 Nov 2004)
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Added on 22-Nov-21 | Last updated 22-Nov-21
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“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see ….”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, ch. 36 (1984)
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Added on 12-Oct-21 | Last updated 12-Oct-21
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Allegiance to the group identity forged by political party affiliation renders Americans blind to the essential similarities between the agendas of the two parties, similarities that can be expected to be exactly the ones that run counter to public interest, in other words, those interests of the deep-pocketed backers of elections to which any politician must be subservient in order to raise the kind of money necessary to run for national office.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
How Propaganda Works, Introduction (2015)
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Added on 7-Oct-21 | Last updated 7-Oct-21
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Hell, I never vote for anybody. I always vote against.

W.C. Fields (1880-1946) American entertainer [b. William Claude Dukenfield]
Comment to Gene Fowler
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Quoted in Robert Lewis Taylor, W. C. Fields, ch. 25 (1949). See also Adams.

More discussion about the origins of this quotation: I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against – Quote Investigator.
Added on 21-Sep-21 | Last updated 21-Sep-21
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Choose your leaders
     with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward
     is to be controlled
     by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool
     is to be led
     by the opportunists
     who control the fool.
To be led by a thief
     is to offer up
     your most precious treasures
     to be stolen.
To be led by a liar
     is to ask
     to be lied to.
To be led by a tyrant
     is to sell yourself
     and those you love
     into slavery.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Parable of the Talents, ch. 11, epigram (1998)
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Added on 26-Aug-21 | Last updated 26-Aug-21
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Our political system has been thoroughly corrupted, and by the usual suspect — money, what else? The corruption is open, obscene, and unmistakable. The way campaigns are financed is a system of legalized bribery. We have a government of special interests, by special interests, and for special interests. And that will not change until we change the way campaigns are financed.

Molly Ivins (1944-2007) American writer, political columnist [Mary Tyler Ivins]
You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You, Introduction (1998)
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Added on 27-Jan-21 | Last updated 27-Jan-21
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I would rather be defeated than make capital out of my religion.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Speech, Chatauqua (1 Apr 1880)
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Added on 8-Jan-21 | Last updated 8-Jan-21
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Another point of disagreement is not factual but involves the ethical/moral principle […] sometimes referred to as the “politics of moral witness.” Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject LEV on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting — i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences. […] The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) American linguist and activist
“An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting)” (15 Jun 2016) [with John Halle]
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Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 21-Oct-20
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Political strategies and tactics are not jealous lovers. You don’t have to be monogamous. Direct Action will not feel betrayed if you also vote from time to time — you can be poly in your tactics. And I am. Of course I vote! If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or a person who doesn’t own property, or even a white male who doesn’t belong to the nobility, centuries of struggle and many deaths have bought you the right to vote. I vote to keep faith with peasant rebels and suffragist hunger strikers and civil rights workers braving the lynch mobs of the South, if for no other reason. But there is another reason — because who we vote for has an enormous impact on real peoples’ lives.

Starhawk (b. 1951) American writer, activist, feminist theologian [b. Miriam Simos]
“Pre-Election Day Thoughts,” blog post (7 Nov 2016)
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Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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Build movements. Vote with your values, but vote strategically. Voting isn’t a Valentine. It’s a chess move.

Rebecca Solnit (b. 1961) American writer, historian, activist
Facebook (17 Oct 2016)
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Solnit is credited with the core message of the last two sentences. She indicates (including from that Facebook post) that it was something she had said that was extracted and perhaps tweaked by May Boeve. E.g., "That 2016 aphorism that I sort of said and May Boeve made into this stand-alone slogan." (1 Nov 2018) "I said that off the cuff in 2016 and May Boeve caught it and it went on to have a nice life. It's also not the only chess move you get." (11 Aug 2020).

Variants:
  • "Voting is a chess move, not a valentine. And here's the joy of being politically engaged all year round every year; you get to work with a whole lot of chess pieces and players and strategies and long-term visions, so you don't agonize over whether this little hop with a pawn we call voting defines you. You get to define yourself by what you're passionately committed to, by who you align with, by your dreams and your visions, you get to move a lot of pieces a lot of times, you get heroic allies, and you play to win above, beyond, around elections. But you vote, because you know it matters too." (7 Nov 2016)
  • "I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine. It’s just a little part of the picture of how we make the world." ("The 2000 Election Unleashed Disaster on the World. We Can’t Let that Happen Again in 2016," The Nation (3 Nov 2016))
  • "A vote is not a valentine. You are not confessing your love for the candidate. It's a chess move for the world you want to live in."
  • "Voting isn't a valentine, it's a chess move. Just one of many with one of your many pieces, if you're using what you've been given."
Added on 14-Oct-20 | Last updated 14-Oct-20
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The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to “End Poverty in California” I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to Norman Thomas (25 Sep 1951)
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Added on 30-Jul-20 | Last updated 30-Jul-20
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We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.

[Erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Letters to Quintus #19 (2.15) (Jun, AD 54) [tr. Bailey (1999)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "There was some expectation of the comitia, but a doubtful one: there was some suspicion of a dictatorship, but not even that was certain. There is a perfect cessation of all business in the courts of law, but more as if the state was growing indolent from age than from real tranquility." [Letter 14, tr. Watson (1855)]
  • "There is some hope of elections, but doubtful; some suspicion of a Dictatorship, but that too not definite; peace reigns in the Forum, but it's the peace of a senile community rather than a contented one." [Letter 19 (II.15), tr. @sentantiq (2020)]
Added on 3-Jun-20 | Last updated 3-Jun-20
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The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“Review of Sir Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe,” The Quarterly Review (Jan 1878)
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Added on 14-May-20 | Last updated 28-Sep-21
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The salvation of America and of the human race depends on the next election, if we believe the newspapers. But so it was last year, and so it was the year before, and our fathers believed the same thing forty years ago.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Oct 1848)
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Added on 9-Jun-19 | Last updated 9-Jun-19
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As democracy is perfected, the office [of the President] represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Bayard vs. Lionheart,” The Baltimore Evening Sun (26 Jul 1920)

Variant: "As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron."

Verification and discussion of this quotation here, here, and here.
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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Democ’acy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
The Bigalow Papers, Second Series, “Ef I a song or two could make,” l. 97 (1867)
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) American journalist and humorist
Nods and Becks (1944)

Adams earlier used a similar phrase (not claiming attribution) in his "Conning Tower" column (13 Nov 1916): "Voters went to the polls, as had been observed frequently, with the intention to vote against Somebody rather than for Somebody." See also Fields.

More discussion about the origins of this quotation: I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against – Quote Investigator.
Added on 9-Sep-16 | Last updated 21-Sep-21
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PRESIDENT, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom — and of whom only — it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) American writer and journalist
The Cynic’s Word Book (1906)
Added on 16-May-16 | Last updated 16-May-16
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DENNIS: Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Added on 13-May-16 | Last updated 13-May-16
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For a candidate to spend millions of dollars during the primaries to win a job that pays only $100,000 a year, doesn’t bode well for the citizens’ hopes of electing a man to this high office whose knowledge of economics will balance our national budget.

Goodman Ace (1899-1982) American humorist [b. Goodman Aiskowitz]
(Attributed)
Added on 11-Mar-16 | Last updated 11-Mar-16
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If a baseball player slides into home plate and, right before the umpire rules if he is safe or out, the player says to the umpire, “Here is $1,000,” what would we call that? We would call that a bribe. If a lawyer was arguing a case before a judge and said, “Your honor before you decide on the guilt or innocence of my client, here is $1,000,” what would we call that? We would call that a bribe. But if an industry lobbyist walks into the office of a key legislator and hands her or him a check for $1,000, we call that a campaign contribution. We should call it a bribe.

Janice Fine (contemp.) American political scientist, academic
Interview with Laura Orlando, “The Clean-Elections Movement,” Dollars and Sense (Jul/Aug 2000)
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 4-Mar-16
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The trouble with this country is that there are too many politicians who believe, with a conviction based on experience, that you can fool all of the people all of the time.

Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) American journalist and humorist
Nods and Becks (1944)

See Lincoln.
Added on 19-Aug-15 | Last updated 19-Aug-15
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The difficulty about a politician, no matter how honest and well-intentioned he may be, is always this: that the matter of absolute importance in his mind, to which everything else must yield, is to carry the next election for his party.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) American theologian and author
“Wanted, a Statesman!”, Old and New Magazine (Dec 1870)
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Added on 26-Sep-14 | Last updated 26-Sep-14
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The system isn’t about ideals. The country doesn’t elect great leaders. It elects fucked-up people who for reasons of ego want to run the world. Then the citizenry makes them become great.

Tony Kushner (b. 1956) American playwright and screenwriter
Interview with Ben Greenman, “Tony Kushner, Radical Pragmatist,” Mother Jones (Nov/Dec 2003)
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Added on 21-Aug-14 | Last updated 21-Aug-14
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The voters selected us, in short, because they had confidence in our judgement and our ability to exercise that judgement from a position where we could determine what were their own best interest, as a part of the nation’s interest.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Profiles in Courage (1956)
Added on 24-Feb-14 | Last updated 24-Feb-14
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I believe that the public temper is such that the voters of the land are prepared to support the party which gives the best promise of administering the government in the honest, simple, and plain manner which is consistent with its character and purposes. They have learned that mystery and concealment in the management of their affairs cover tricks and betrayal. The statesmanship they require consists in honesty and frugality, a prompt response to the needs of the people as they arise, and a vigilant protection of all their varied interests.

Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) American President (1885–1889, 1893–1897)
Letter accepting Democratic nomination for President (8 Aug 1884)
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Added on 13-Dec-10 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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We are not a cynical people. The will to believe lingers on. We like to think that heroes can emerge from obscurity, as they sometimes do; that elections do matter, even though the process is at least part hokum; that through politics we can change our society and maybe even find a cause to believe in.

Ronald Steel
Ronald Steel (b. 1931) American writer, historian, and professor
“The Vanishing Campaign Biography,” New York Times (5 Aug 1984)
Added on 9-Jul-10 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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There are worse things than losing an election; the worst thing is to lose one’s convictions and not tell the people the truth.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
(Attributed)

In Edward Doyle, As We Knew Adlai: The Stevenson Story by Twenty-two Friends (1966).  In response to the suggestion his support for a nuclear test ban would cost him votes.
Added on 15-Feb-10 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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The salvation of America and of the human race depends on the next Election, if we believe the newspapers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Oct 1848)
Added on 16-Dec-09 | Last updated 19-Feb-22
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To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech fragment (c. 18 May 1858)
Added on 22-Apr-08 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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But I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wicked situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any for of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Speech at the Virginia Convention (20 Jun 1788)
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Added on 28-Jan-08 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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In every election in American history both parties have their clichés. The party that has the clichés that ring true wins.

Newt Gingrich (b. 1943) American politician [Newton Leroy Gingrich]
International Herald Tribune, Paris (1 Aug 1988)
Added on 6-Jul-04 | Last updated 3-Nov-21
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It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

[Я считаю, что совершенно неважно, кто и как будет в партии голосовать; но вот что чрезвычайно важно, это – кто и как будет считать голоса.]

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) Georgian revolutionary and Soviet dictator
Comment (1923)

Alternate translation: "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."

Alternate translation: "I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this -- who will count the votes, and how." Quoted in B. Bazhanov, The Memoirs of Stalin's Former Secretary (1992) [Борис Бажанов. Воспоминания бывшего секретаря Сталина], regarding elections to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

The quotation is considered dubious by a number of sources.

The phrase was used by Tom Stoppard in Jumpers (1972): "It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 28-Sep-21
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Bad officials are elected by good people who do not vote.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
(Attributed)

Quoted in Clifton Fadiman, ed., The American Treasury, 1455—1955 (1955), but not found in any of Nathan's writings.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-Nov-20
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True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) English politician and essayist
“Some Cautions Offered to the Consideration of Those Who Are to Choose Members to Serve in the Ensuing Parliament,” sec. 16 (1695)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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