Edit: The question here isn't attempting to determine when a democratic vote or process is necessary or correct. Here it is trying to point to indicators that a voter might notice that would cause them to not want to participate in the existing democratic vote they are eligible for (not abstain). Note, the other question is pertaining to when to use a democratic vote as opposed to other systems. This question asks when is a democratic vote detrimental to the system itself, or how it can be detrimental.

Based on some of the comments and answers from this question.

Credit to this comment:

In rigged democratic systems voting is helpless. It only legitimise the system. Rather, do not vote. – luchonacho

Please do not challenge the claims made by the comment directly, the comment is the inspiration for this question.

We know that in functioning democracies it is typically a good thing to vote on everything there is a vote for. However, the world contains a myriad of governments at various states of functionality.

Given the premise is correct, that it can be bad for a democracy to have people voting, what conditions or situations would help identify when it is better to keep silent?

Seeing that the inspirational comment mentions a rigged system, the answer should address indicators to look for that establish the system is actually rigged (with reasonable understanding these indicators are not proof and may be controversial).

Please note: This question is not seeking answers on what to do instead of voting or election tactics. I am looking specifically at conditions, situations, or scenarios when participating in the voting process is counter-productive to sustaining the democracy and why it is bad to cast that vote.

So, the question is:

At what point would it be bad for democracy to vote and why/how is it bad after that point?

Or, possibly to rephrase it again; when is it damaging to democracy to vote in a democracy?

Suggestions for improving the question are welcome.

  • A classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Are we talking about an election where 1 group of conspirators is in charge of the count (some 3rd world countries) or is it a single district in Florida where there are issues? If the former, the vote did not actually take place since the lifecycle of the work flow was not completed. If the latter, then it is something that can be fixed in an organic human system. The issues can be minimized but never eliminated. Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 18:55
  • 1
    I'm confused by some parts of the question. Are you looking for "How can I tell whether my political system is so flawed that I shouldn't vote" (indicated by "the answer should address these indicators to look for"), or are you looking for "in what situations would voting be bad for democracy" regardless of how a person could come to know that? Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 19:59
  • @KamilDrakari the referenced question and comment are provided to give basis to where the question comes from. The quoted comment implies that voting in a rigged system would make things worse. Basically, how would it be worse to the system to participate in it, or how would the participation do damage to the system? I fail to see where a "rigged" system can be evident or voting in said rigged system would somehow make it worse.
    – David S
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 20:08
  • Is a "rigged democratic system" a democracy anymore? Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 13:43

4 Answers 4


As an individual, if you're ignorant about the details of a complex issue and voting based on passion rather than careful thought, you're better off not voting on that issue. In The Myth of the Rational Voter, Brian Caplan discusses this problem in depth. The argument, from an article talking about the book, goes something like this:

I focus on the public’s mistaken beliefs about economics. Partly, this is because I am an economist, but mainly it is because economics is such a clear example of a subject that is politically important (“It’s the economy, stupid,”) yet poorly understood. I suspect that the public’s errors extend far beyond economics. There is convincing evidence that the public holds systematically biased beliefs about toxicology and cancer. In foreign policy, similarly, we have the “rally round the flag” effect, the public’s tendency to support wars as soon as they have been declared. But even if the average voter perfectly understood every non-economic subject, misconceptions about economics by themselves would pose a serious problem for democracy...

In politics as in religion, some beliefs are more emotionally appealing than others. For example, it feels a lot better to blame sneaky foreigners for our economic problems than it does to blame ourselves. This creates a temptation to relax normal intellectual standards and insulate cherished beliefs from criticism — in short, to be irrational.

But why are there some areas — like politics and religion — where irrationality seems especially pronounced? My answer is that irrationality, like ignorance, is sensitive to price, and false beliefs about politics and religion are cheap. If you underestimate the costs of excessive drinking, you can ruin your life. In contrast, if you underestimate the benefits of immigration, or the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, what happens to you? In all probability, the same thing that would have happened to you if you knew the whole truth.

In a sense, then, there is a method to the average voter’s madness. Even when his views are completely wrong, he gets the psychological benefit of emotionally appealing political beliefs at a bargain price. No wonder he buys in bulk.

By voting based on what is emotionally appealing rather than what we know from careful study of facts we can make wrong choices. These wrong choices that are just based on emotion are likely to line up with others making appealing but wrong choices and hurt society as a whole. As individuals we are very likely to make those kinds of mistakes, since they feel good and cost us almost nothing. Voting for voting's sake based on intuition and what feels good can be very detrimental to society.


In a pure democracy, everyone would vote on everything.

However, as a society grows in complexity, that task would be overwhelming to the average person.

Everyone voting on everything also promotes populism: running campaigns and initiatives on emotional appeal rather than dispassionate examination of all relevant facts.

In that respect, voting can be bad if everyone had to vote on everything, because the average person could easily fall prey to clever marketing and cherry picked 'facts'. This is not a point we reach, but a pitfall to beware of.

So we vote on representatives whose full time job is to analyze situations and arrive at a conclusion that the majority of voters would agree on, if they had analyzed the situation.

Within that model, there are abuses - people and organizations with money can influence representatives to a disproportionate degree. However... if that influence runs contrary to the will of the electorate in general, that representative will eventually get voted out.

It's not perfect, but it's the best we have.

As applied to the long standing western democratic nations, the 'rigged democratic system' is a euphemism for 'I don't like how the majority voted'. As if no reasonable person could possibly disagree with the person making the remark...


In a word? It's about legitimacy. When you vote, you (should) have certain suppositions: that you have at least basic knowledge on what it is that you're voting for, that the vote is fair, that there is a genuine 'choice' to be made, that you won't be punished for whom or what you vote for, and that the candidate/issue that gets the most votes will be elected/enacted.

If I'm not allowed to know about the candidates, if I'm sure my ballot will disappear if I vote for the wrong person, or if I'm sure all choices are bad ones, or if my 'choice' is just a hypothetical because if I vote for candidate B, I'll be imprisoned, or that it won't matter who I vote for, someone else is in charge of who takes power....all of these would be reasons to question the legitimacy of the voting process itself, and thus not vote in protest.


I'm glad you asked. When is voting bad for democracy? In all cases. However, you should still vote - it's a small expense - but expect nothing from the outcome. Voting is necessary, but not sufficient. Only direct action will yield the best results.

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    and yet "democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".
    – Alexei
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 5:19

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