In general, I try to stay away from common questions that are asked of me. I do this so that I do not have to explain myself to people who will not understand what I am saying or to people who are contrarian by nature. I have tried to steer clear of debating people on certain political debates especially among those who are uninformed or what I would more appropriately label as ill-informed. Chuck Klosterman sums it up best in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs when he talks about how he will never have a conversation about abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice, talk about affirmative action with any unemployed people, etc. He goes so far as to say that when someone is so one sided in their thoughts, he remarks that it is interesting to him but that person will never say anything of interest to him. I feel that way constantly.
I guess I should address a fundamental question of what I hope to accomplish. There are two questions that are essentially asked of me at various points when I tell people what I want to do with my life. Those questions are why is it important to vote and/or how do you hope to accomplish an increase in voting numbers? The second one I’m not really going to deal with because it involves me reviewing quite a bit of political socialization literature and I could quote various political scientists who say what the important factors are in getting someone to vote but this answer just makes me sound like someone who is kind of a douche bag or at the very least a jackass. If you really were to press me on how I would accomplish it, I would answer and you would say does that work? I would say yes, all of the political scientists study this issue agree and you would be still left questioning me. Hence, I do not usually even address this question because the question itself is being asked by someone who will not understand the importance of the actions that will take place. I won’t have my heart in answering these questions because I understand that it’s boring to you. Or you’ll simply disagree with whatever I say, which is fine. I’m not here to change your mind. On a side note, I work at a call center for a four star luxury hotel chain. When I tell people that I work for a hotel company, they usually assault me with their knowledge of how booking hotels work based on what they’ve read on Yahoo! and other sites that promote false travel advice. I’ve tried to educate people in the past about it but I’m still confronted with people who think that if you get to a hotel after 6pm someone will give your room away, credit cards are charged upon booking even if they don’t explicitly say it, any number of disagreements that people have had with their problems in booking hotel rooms. I do not try and argue anymore because people get defensive when you argue and if you won’t listen to what I say then we clearly have nothing to talk about. I will move on to the fundamental question.
Why is it important to vote? Usually, when people ask me this, I start with it is our civic duty to be a participant in our democracy. It is important to participate because we are all given a voice and we can choose how we use it. There will never be a time that the President asks me directly for my advice but based on how each person votes and in particular, how I vote, it gives a chance to influence legislation and the legislative goals of our governments. If we continue to vote for the same type of people then the same type of people will continue to run. If you want to affect change in the roles of government and/or you are not satisfied with the way government is currently being run but you are not voting, you have lost your voice. You have lost your right to complain. So, when you complain to me about how politics is corrupted or how you cannot trust any politicians, etc., I’m not going to listen if you didn’t vote. You chose to make your voice heard that you don’t care enough to complain. I’m a big believer in actions speak louder than words. I referenced choice earlier and that is the choice that is being made. You choose not to vote; you chose not to complain. Even worse, you chose not to complain when somebody would actually listen.
In David Foster Wallace’s political essay “Up, Simba”, Wallace chronicles the John McCain campaign in 2000 for the magazineRolling Stone. Wallace has a number of poignant quotes but his best is describing the game of politics. He essentially states that the politicians of the status quo know it is in their best interests not to get more people to vote. They realize that if it is “politics as usual” more of the same people will show up to vote and the same people will continue to get elected. This is why, he believes, that politicians resort to having intensely negative ads about their opponents, why there is continuous mud slinging throughout different election cycles, why the same issues are brought up at every debate, etc. The politicians of the status quo are not stupid, he argues, they know that their stands, advertisements, etc. will not influence any new voters to come and vote for them. They are not interested in “new voters”. They are interested in those who already vote and they try to drag it out to discourage those who do not vote to continue not to vote. They know that those who do not vote have a chance of actually creating change. So, those in charge of the status quo continue to make politics seem as ugly, corrupted, tactless, baseless, and factless as they possibly can. There is no coincidence that the same issues are brought up at every debate with the same responses. By not voting, you are giving someone else two votes that supports the status quo. If you do not support the status quo, the only logical thing for you to do is to upset the status quo. By sitting in your room on election day and griping about how you will not vote because you do not agree with the status quo, actually vote, and have that voice heard. People analyze the ballots to see voter trends. Political strategists look at what will win and what people seem to be interested in and they use to inspire their next campaign. I have given up on trying to reform candidates but if we have an electorate that will actually vote that will inspire change in the first place. If you are not satisfied with the collection of candidates that are on the ballot, put write-in candidates in. There’s space on the ballot for that. Or if you’re feeling super patriotic you can try and start your own write-in campaign for someone. I guarantee that if 10% of a district voted for ‘Daffy Duck’ as a write-in for a Congressional seat, people would take notice. You might not see it but political strategists will realize either that a) this district does not take voting seriously or b) the candidates that are running are not intriguing. This will affect small change.
A complaint I typically hear from people who do not vote is that they lack the knowledge about the candidates to cast a knowledgeable vote. This equates to essentially being lazy. There are numerous sites that offer you side by side comparisons of candidates for the presidency, seats in the House, seats in Senate, ballot measures, etc. If you are not aware of any of these sites, my favorite is www.votesmart.org. They are trying something new this year so I’ll be pimping it a lot, here. Additionally, the League of Women Voters puts out a newspaper type newsletter for each election that provides voters with the answers to questions that are typically important. I found this extremely helpful in the 2010 mid-term elections when there was voting on state positions that I did not know anything about. If you are currently not voting because you are not knowledgeable about the candidates or the issues, you do not care enough to know. There is another solution that can be had regarding the knowledge issue. There are people out there who are described as ‘issues voters’. This means that in every election they vote based off a single issue. There are a lot of people out there who do this. An example of this can be found with abortions. In a Sarah Palin documentary, the filmmaker interviews the former mayor Wasila, Alaska who talked about how Sarah Palin was talking about being pro-life, separation of church and state, etc. in a city’s mayoral election. The former mayor was confused how to run against that. People have these issues that they think are the most important, many people feel like that is abortion. They will vote for any candidate who is pro-life enough. So, my advice if you don’t want to actually research different candidates and how they stack up against each other is to pick an issue that you feel is the most important and vote for the candidates who support your view on that issue. Skip over the other ones, if you want. There is any number of websites for the various interest groups of almost every political issue that can tell you who to vote for. If you end up getting really stuck on who to vote for, I will post my research that I do in order to show how I go about choosing a candidate to vote for, here, too.
Another common response to why someone doesn’t vote is that they feel like their vote doesn’t count. I somewhat agree with this argument. Nebraska and Maine have actually done what all states should do which is to split up their electoral votes by congressional district and the overall general popular vote of the state wins the two other electoral votes. But I digress. There was a model of study in political science, in which they tried to prove that only the people that they considered to be politically knowledgeable or otherwise political elites votes do not actually count because of the fluctuations of the everyday voters essentially cancelling out the votes of the elites. It seems improbable on the surface that people’s votes cancel out but I assure you, this happens. This is the great equalizer in our system but too many people who could reap rewards from it do not even participate. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, your social status, or any of that, each of us is handed the ability to place one vote in an election. By choosing not to, you are allowing someone’s votes to count twice. In an average congressional district there are roughly 250,000 people. Not all 250,000 are eligible to vote. Let’s put the number at 200,000 for those who are eligible to vote. While in 1/200,000 is not ideal odds, it is a hell of a lot better than 1/300,000,000 or 1/6,000,000. Your vote probably will not decide an election but it will give yourself a voice instead of giving me or the crazy soccer mom up the street two voices.
The most common answer is that I just don’t care enough to vote. That’s mainly because that is what my girlfriend tells me all the time when I go off ranting and raving about how politics or voting, in general. So how do I propose to fix apathy? I’m reminded of a statement that I heard a long time ago that asked why do we have problems with ignorance and apathy? The answer is I don’t know and I don’t care. How am I supposed to make people care about politics? I am convinced and the political science research agrees with me that knowledge will make people more prone to voting. The highest links to voting, or the highest predictor of voting: (not in the correct order) voting in the last election, voting in your first election (meaning when you turned 18), political knowledge, close race in your district, participant (meaning that you have a bumper sticker in your car, showed up to a rally, have a sign in your yard, etc.), and political discussion. So, I am not going to battle apathy. I can’t do it. I refuse to fight a battle that I know I can’t win. I’ll encourage people to go to different rallies, to hold political discussions, to research candidates, but I will not try to fight you if you say you don’t care. You’ve made a conscious choice not to participate in something that will affect every day of your life. The people who tend not to vote have the most to gain by voting.
I’ll leave you with this. In 2008, we had the highest turnout in a presidential election since 1960. About 60% of the country came out to vote. Barack Obama, I think, won with 52% of the vote. John McCain had 48%, I think. I’m not looking at the data right now. I might be off. Essentially, we have a president who barely won a majority of the slight majority of people who actually voted. Historically, the percentage of people that vote is near 45-55%. Sometimes it does not even reach 50%. What essentially happens when we have less than half of the country vote, is we get presidents who win a little more than half of that vote wins the election. Instead of representing the majority of Americans, increasingly what happens is that the president represents a quarter or less of the people actually in the country. Let’s think through this. We have a country of 300 million people (I’m rounding and assuming that all 300 million people, fuck off, this is a thought experiment) and 150 million of them do not vote. Most elections are decided at a Congressional level by mere thousands or less amounts of votes. I guess I shouldn’t say most but a fair amount of elections are decided by thousands of votes, some times even less. If we divide that 150 million over 435 congressional districts or 50 states or however you want to divide it, those sheer numbers are going to tilt elections. What we’re doing is waiting on the politicians or politics itself to change which is not a good option. We keep electing the status quo of candidates to represent us thinking that they will change. What’s that saying about leopards and spots, again? I’m tired of hearing people getting upset about politics or about how corrupt they think it is or any number of complaints that people have about politics and then tell me that they don’t vote. Saying since it’s not going to change there is no need to vote, you are the exact reason why it’s not going to change. Those in charge of the status quo will continue to make you believe that politics is so dirty or so corrupt or whatever it takes to keep you from voting. Apparently, they don’t even have to do that much.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that overnight we will have 100% voter turnout. I don’t see that happening even in my lifetime. But we can push the vote out there and we can get people voting at a rate of 60% or 65% consistently. We can make modest goals and increase the votes. That’s what I’m going to do, is try to increase the number of people showing up to elections. Even if I only bring the percentage up ‘tenths of a percent’ at a time, I’m fine with that. What I do not want is to go through another fucking election where 50% of the people show up and the president takes the country with half the people who showed up’s votes. So I swear, if you complain to me about how godawful some person is in government but you didn’t vote, I will not listen and, to be honest, I will probably tell you to shut up.
Here are my goals of what I want to accomplish.
1. Get to and maintain at least 65% of people eligible to vote to participate in Presidential elections while improving the total percentage each Presidential election. Get to and maintain at least 55% of those eligible to vote to participate in midterm elections and improving the total percentage each midterm election.
2. Goal I would like to see before I die is at least 80% of those eligible to vote to participate in a presidential election. I would also like to see 70% participate in a midterm election.
3. Repeal rules and regulations that make it less likely for multiple parties to crash the two party system.
4. Have a member of one of these third parties win multiple seats in Congress.
5. Stop people from putting -"gate" at the end of pseudo-scandals.
6. Have debates where issues that are actually important get raised.
7. Testify at a Congressional Hearing