Tom Woods addressed the first objection in a blog post the other day:
If you were stuck in a prison camp, and the guards let you vote on whether you were to have gruel or prime rib for dinner, would you be “consenting to the system” to vote for prime rib, or would you simply be doing the best you could under the circumstances to improve your material condition?His question implies that the two options -- consenting to the system or doing the best you could to improve your material condition -- are mutually exclusive. They are not. Can you vote for the prime rib (or the gruel, for that matter) and still oppose the system? Absolutely. Will your captors acknowledge this distinction? Doubtful.
The problem with these types of thought experiments is that they are directed at the wrong audience. The title of Mr. Woods' blog post is "Why Even an Anarchist Should Vote for Ron Paul". The content is clearly directed at anarchists of various stripes who have made a conscious decision not to vote for whatever reason. They, typically, understand the nuances of voting but not consenting. That is not to say that statists don't also understand that nuance. However, whether they understand it or not, they will not acknowledge it.
When one is born into this world, he or she cannot be said to have consented to any government. In fact, even adhering to the laws of any particular government cannot be said to constitute consent. A person breaking the law often enough would quickly find himself in a situation akin to the prison camp described by Mr. Woods. Therefore, the only position we can reasonably ascribe to such a person is a desire to avoid the government force threatened when the law is broken. The same applies to paying taxes. Paying taxes also cannot be said to serve as consent because, again, government force is threatened if taxes are not paid. While adhering to the laws and paying taxes are sometimes used as a measure of consent, even the most ardent government supporter cannot claim that these are completely free choices made by an individual.
How then can we measure whether a person consents to his government? It can only be by an affirmative participation with government in which a person can freely choose whether or not to participate. This participation must also not be predicated on some prior interaction with the government. An example of this latter condition is the acceptance of a government benefit by a taxpayer. The taxes were appropriated (for the sake of argument) without the consent of the person, and the courts refuse to hear any case in which taxes are purported to be theft. Therefore, the only recourse for the taxpayer to try to recoup his lost property is by accepting some kind of government benefit, be it through the use of public roads or schools or accepting payments from programs like Social Security. (This ultimately leads to the problem described by libertarian class analysis, namely that there exists net tax payers and net tax beneficiaries, but that is another topic entirely.)
What we are left with to determine consent is voting. (Technically, voluntary military service could also serve in this role, but this is applicable to a very low percentage of the population and therefore not suitable for this discussion.) Again, it is possible to vote and not consent; it is even possible to make the argument that voting for lower taxes (or against higher ones) is a form of action predicated on a prior government action: theft via taxation. However, voting is the "most free" interaction with government allowed, and as described previously, those in government and those who support it will construe voting as consent. Sure, one can disagree with the outcome, but one still consented to it. In this way, voting for a candidate who most favors libertarian ideals -- who outright wants to abolish government -- could be the most damning act of all (in a statist's eyes) because one will vote most earnestly and without reservation to give his candidate the power of government, even if the goal is ultimately to turn that power against itself.
To illustrate my second objection to voting, let me alter Mr. Woods' example slightly:
Let's assume again that you are stuck in a prison camp, this time with two others. The prison guards again offer a choice of gruel or prime rib. One of the others becomes violently ill when eating red meat, and one is tired of eating gruel to the point of violence.Do you vote for the prime rib, forcing the one who will become ill to go without? Do you vote for the gruel risking the possibility that the other one will become violent and hurt either you or the allergic one? Do you work out some kind of system in which you vote for prime rib sometimes and gruel other times leaving the allergic one without food on occasion?
It's very easy to look at a situation like that proposed by Tom Woods and assume that there is nothing wrong with voting because the situations presented are such that no one would oppose them. Roderick Long, in an article I highly recommend, makes the same leap by analogizing that it would be right for Lana Lang to take control of Lex Luthor's Juggernaut Beast and prevent the destruction of Smallville -- you really have to read the article. (Long eventually shoots his own argument in the foot by saying that there is nothing wrong with a libertarian wielding government power so long as he doesn't use it for "evil". Why isn't the same true of Lex Luthor? Lex has not aggressed against anyone merely by flying around in his Juggernaut Beast, at least not any more so than the mere existence of government constitutes aggression.) Real life is never so cut and dried. The choices required in voting are more often like the example of the prison camp that I described.
In summary, voting is not, in and of itself, an immoral or aggressive act. Furthermore, it is possible to vote for (or against) something and still object to the system within which the vote takes place. However, no matter how one rationalizes his act of voting or not voting, he must be aware of how that action will be perceived (particularly by those with whom he disagrees) and if/how that action will affect others.