This question came from the Politics SE but I was told it didn't fit their format, so I'm bringing this here because I want to hear answers based on morality.

So this always comes up when I'm talking to people I know. I complain about this politician getting elected but because I missed voting because the voting precinct wasn't there on the day of the elections, thus I failed to vote. Their response is "you have no right to complain because you didn't vote".

Do people that didn't vote have a right to complain about who got elected and the way they run things? Is there something in philosophy that is an example of this, which is complaining about the things you did not partake in but directly influences you?

  • 1
    Can you give a definition of rights that we can work from? The word tends to have different meanings in different contexts. – virmaior Aug 14 '14 at 3:32
  • There are no rights of complaint. You have the right to freedom of speech. – Keith Nicholas Aug 14 '14 at 3:46
  • Well, they won't hear any of my opinion because I failed to vote. – Danube Aug 14 '14 at 5:20
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    A "right to complain" is a veil for the "right to your opinion", with a bit of obnoxiousness thrown in. You may want to re-phrase it to be more equitable. Given that, I'd suggest this very good article on rights to opinions as a background to editing your question: theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978 – Ryder Aug 14 '14 at 9:04

i take you to mean that if you complain in this instance your complaint is in some sense invalid, not that you have no right to express the complaint. of course logically speaking this is a form of ad hominem.

so perhaps you are asking if no-one has a duty to act on your complaint, because you didn't vote. likewise perhaps no-one has a duty to treat my cancer because i didn't stop smoking, even-though i will die painfully without treatment that is available.

but IMHO even if it is accepted that a democratic vote can and does define our actual moral rights, you must have the same rights however you voted [or didn't]. how wrong would it be e.g. to say that anyone who votes for the winning party has extra rights or privileges?

i'm aware i didn't completely answer your question but HTH a little.


Someone could have not voted because both politicians were equally bad in his/her prespective. Therefore they have the right tocomplain.

You could have even voted for a politican but later disagreed with some of their policies and want to complain about it.

In the more general case in philosphy I am not sure what is the answer.


You are not obligated to cast a vote if don't believe in supporting any of the candidates. You commonly here people refer to choosing the lesser of two evils. In the democracy I know everyone has the right to government, so if you don't agree with any of the decision makers that are running for government you don't have to vote for them. You have every right to complain about the lot of them, and even establish your own political party that promotes your views, write your own policy, and run for government. You should look at how many political parties there are in Canada, some of them are hilarious. Last year some of the parties that were recognized in the provincial elections in my home province included; the Communist, Excalibur, Marijuana, Platinum, Unparty, Vision, & Work Less parties.

Next time your friends tell you that you don't have the right to complain, tell them that they don't have the right to silence or censor your opinions.


Of course you have a right to complain! The real question, I think, is if you have a right to complain on things you willingly refrained from taking action on. If you hadn't voted at all willingly (excluding not voting because of equal preference for all candidates), then I would agree that you have no real right to complain, but to say that you have no right to complain where you didn't even have a chance to vote is like saying that the Russian people under Stalin had no right to complain about the government because they didn't elect Stalin as their leader.


Do people that didn't vote have a right to complain about who got elected and the way they run things? Is there something in philosophy that is an example of this, which is complaining about the things you did not partake in but directly influences you?

The meaning of "you don't have the right to complain because you didn't vote" is unclear but on just about any reading it is wrong.

You have the right to free speech in the sense that nobody should stop you from saying or writing stuff by force. This is not conditional on voting.

If you think the government is doing bad things and that voters chose a bad candidate, then you are either right or wrong. In either case, whether your opinion is any good has nothing at all to do with whether you voted. So your vote or lack thereof has nothing at all to do with how your opinion should be assessed.


You might have not voted under the assumption that all available candidates are reasonably decent human beings, and electing any of them would lead to a reasonably good outcome. When that assumption is wrong and the candidate that the majority voted for turns out to be Hitler jr. , you have the right to complain. So does everyone who voted against him, and everybody who voted for him and didn't realise what the person would be like once elected.

Of course it might turn out that all of you just lost their right to complain...


I up voted a couple answers that mentioned the lesser-of-evils syndrome; how can you vote when all the candidates are bad?

However, I'd like to take it one step further. What we're essentially saying is that all the FRONT-RUNNING candidates are bad. Many people trust in some maverick candidate, like Bernie Sanders or Ralph Nader. What they don't realize is that these are often examples of "controlled opposition," or fake leaders. They're operatives whose job it is to mislead and confuse the voters.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. As a former candidate for public office, I can speak firsthand of the extraordinary games that are played even in "liberal Seattle." You can count me among those who ask in despair "WHAT democracy?"

I think this puts a different slant on the question (even though voting was merely inserted as an example). Many people would cite the last presidential election as the worst in U.S. history. Expecting people to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary was utterly insane. So we give them an impossible choice, then criticize them when they don't endorse the scumbag they despise the least?

In this particular example, a person has every right to complain about the person who got elected. However, I would add that people should make an effort to see the bigger picture and complain about the bigger picture, not just that one horrible public official who got elected.

But what about a situation where there IS a good candidate, and a person who could easily vote is too busy watching TV or playing with his Xbox?

Voting is a necessary function of democracy, and people do have some responsibility to vote. In this spirit, we can get sucked into arguments where we're splitting hairs. John Doe may be right on target when he calls a newly elected politician (Mr. X) a liar. But if there was an obviously good candidate (Mr. A), and John Doe didn't cast a vote for him, then we would have grounds for some kind of complaint.

Again, it's perfectly OK for John Doe to state the obvious (or even offer an opinion), that Mr. is a liar, for example. It would also be OK for John Doe to criticize the corrupt election system that made it possible for Mr. X to get elected.

However, the fact that John Doe didn't vote is obviously going to be ammunition for his critics, even if they use that ammunition in an unfair manner.

To really get to the heart of the matter, it would be interesting to try and formulate a logical, rational charge against John Doe in such a situation. Here are a couple possible examples:

  1. John Doe says the election system is corrupt.

Analysis - He's correct. Moreover, if we find out John Doe didn't vote, we really shouldn't criticize him for not voting if the election was a total sham.

  1. John Doe criticizes people who didn't vote for Mr. A.

Analysis - John Doe's opinion appears to be valid. However, it's also a classic example of hypocrisy, since he didn't vote himself.

We could cite "free speech" as something that gives John Doe the right to complain, under any circumstances, but he's obviously going out on a limb.

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