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Sun., Oct. 4
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Why I don't vote


A few weeks ago, I was at lunch with Jude Seymour and a few other Republican ne'er-do-wells, and I said something that caused such a shock, you would have thought I had said that the government can pick winners and losers.
I said that I don't vote.
My reasoning is simple: As a journalist, I need to be as impartial as I can be. While purity is impossible, I ought to do everything in my power to make sure I'm not invested in any one cause or candidate.
Mr. Seymour, the spokesman for Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny, told me I was wrong (he was speaking as a former political reporter, not as Mr. Doheny's spokesman). The lunch bunch told me that it was intellectually dishonest to pretend that I don't secretly (or not so secretly) favor one candidate or ideology over another. I must admit, I didn't have a great comeback for this.
I decided to consult an expert. Professor Charlotte Grimes teaches political reporting at Syracuse University. She taught me everything I know about reporting on politics, and most of what I know about being a journalist. She doesn't vote, either.
"The basic reason is because I believe deeply in the notion of being as impartial as possible," she told me yesterday. "I think the more obstacles I put in my way to being impartial, the harder it is for me to do my job and to serve the public, as journalists are supposed to do."
Professor Grimes says that it's a personal decision, and she doesn't evangelize about it.
"Most reporters do vote. And I respect that," she said. "I don't say that any shouldn't unless they feel they shouldn't. Most reporters do feel they can compartmentalize more than I feel I can."
I posed the counter-argument: that impartiality is impossible. Secretly, I really want Jeff to win the Watertown mayoral race.
"Of course, every human being has points of view and preferences," she said. "It's a matter of, what do you do with them? Do you express them or do you restrain them?"
Professor Grimes noted that democracy requires many of its citizens to put aside preferences. Jurors. Judges. Police officers.
"This is not an unusual or strange concept," she said.
So how can I possibly proselytize about the need to vote when I don't do it myself? Isn't it in some way disrespectful to the democratic process?
Turns out, it's not.
"I think journalism is an act of citizenship," Professor Grimes said. "If I can do anything that makes my journalism better, that's my obligation. It's not being disrespectful. It's saying, I want to make it so possible for others to make informed decisions that I'm willing to restrain myself from that."
Non-voters, Professor Grimes told me, are in the minority of political reporters. Leonard Downie, former executive editor of the Washington Post, abstains from voting.
I'm making that same personal decision. But I'll still be at the polls, querying people about their preferences to add a bit of color to tomorrow's daily miracle.
Democracy. Isn't it grand?

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