The old Israeli elections slogan, "those who vote make a difference," is a catchy and successful one. Yet truth is that the likelihood of one vote affecting the overall election results is negligible.
The reason every person must bother to vote hinges on the fact that this is the main act associated with political participation in a representative democracy; an act where each and every person authorizes his or her representatives to act on their behalf for a limited period of time.
As there is no democracy without periodical elections (this is a required condition, even if an insufficient one,) we can rule that this is in fact an opportunity given to the citizens to express their support for democracy itself, the system of government, with no relation to their vote. In other words, the failure to vote weakens democracy vis-à-vis its enemies.
Those who think that the end of history is here and that liberal democracy achieved a final and absolute win are wrong. There are rivals who rise up against it in every generation, at times openly and visibly so, and other times deceptively and through a gradual effort. Those who do not cast their ballot should keep in mind that the right to vote is not a trivial one. One hundred years ago it was a right that only few women enjoyed. During the same era, and a little before that, most men living in democracies did not enjoy it either.
It is easy to respond to the claim that "there's nobody to vote for," as compared to other democracies we are quite pampered. Here, there is a variety of parties that express diverse positions and identities and whose chances to win Knesset seats are relatively good, thanks to our elections system. We are not limited to a realistic choice between two parties as is the case in the United States and in Britain, and we have no cases where many districts see a candidate of the same party elected consecutively for dozens of years. Here, the choice is more diverse from the voter's point of view.
The more difficult question is whether it is better to vote for an undemocratic party than not to vote? As noted, voting constitutes approval of the democratic system, and therefore even voting for an undemocratic party is a de facto approval of the democratic system, by taking part in it. However, an undemocratic majority like the one we saw in the Weimar Republic may jeopardize democracy.
The conclusion is clear: In order to strengthen democracy, one needs to vote, and one should vote for a party that supports democracy. Those who support democracy and are too lazy to vote boost the power of those who made the effort and voted for a party that opposes democracy. And those who ask themselves what is this democracy that requires an effort to be preserved (and in this case, not a particularly difficult effort) would do well to look at the alternatives.
So go out and vote, women and men, Jews and Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, religious, and secular. All of you reinforce the strength of our democracy. Should democracy lose, we shall all lose.
Dr. Gideon Rahat is a senior lecturer at the Political Science Department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem