Monday, September 01, 2008

307. why your vote counts!

[Preface]

I'm no political expert. I'm no statistician. But I am an American citizen and as such, I think it's shameful that only about 64 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot in the '04 elections.

What follows is a brief, very non-expert post about why I vote and why I think those who don't vote should vote - especially Gen Xers and younger.

Take these ideas with a huge grain of salt. They're based more on speculation than substance or research, but I think the ideas are interesting enough to put out there.

Maybe it's dangerous for someone as uninformed as I to be writing about voting, but my blog has very limited readership and so even if I'm crazily, wrong (which is not unlikely), I doubt it will have any huge impact.

I'm just saying all this so that in the very unlikely event that this little entry goes viral and Ralph Nader gets elected (more on this below), I want to make it clear that I never posed as anything other than a humble blogger who wanted to talk about why he thought more of his friends should get out there and vote.

[End preface]

The number of eligible voters under the age of 35 are notoriously low. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, only about 52 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 34 voted in the November 2004 presidential elections. As a comparison, about 68 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 35 and 64 voted. Move the years around a bit and the gap gets even larger: only about 47 percent of eligible 18 - 24 year olds voted compared to about 72 percent of those 55 and older.

The common excuses I hear from those among my age group are (in no particular order):


  • my vote won’t matter
  • it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, things will still be screwed up
  • I don’t like any of the candidates
  • I don’t know who to vote for


I’ll try and deal with those excuses one by one, but for me one of the most compelling reasons to vote is this one: BECAUSE WE CAN! Our forefathers fought brutally ugly, bloody wars to gain our independence so that we could elect our own leadership instead of being ruled by a Prime Minister thousands of miles away. On top of that, do you realize that women have been allowed to vote for less than one hundred years (Nineteenth Amendment passed August, 1920)? And African-Americans have only been able to vote within the last 50 years - after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. These rights only came about after years of work and sacrifice. Bloody battles were fought. Tens of thousands of people marched and protested, hundreds sat in jails, many more were beaten, and many died brutal deaths.

Because they wanted their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to vote.

If nothing else, we owe it to them to cast a ballot.

But first let’s deal with some of those common excuses.

  • my vote won’t matter

Well, if you don’t vote, of course your vote won’t matter. And I understand that casting one solitary vote feels very small and ineffective. I also understand the feeling that regardless of who wins or loses, things never seem to get better.

But here’s the thing. Your one vote isn’t just your one vote.

Do you know why The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (estimated to cost $1.2 trillion over ten years) passed in 2003 while nothing was done about the fact that almost all economic experts agree that the Social Security System will be out of money by the time Generation Xers retire?

Well, there are many reasons, but here’s one I don’t hear discussed very much. Remember those statistics I trotted out at the beginning of this entry? The one about how those over 50 are more likely to vote than those under 34? Do you think it’s a coincidence that a massive, expensive overhaul of the Medicare system that will benefit those over 50 got passed while the issue of the future viability of the Social Security System (which will eventually have a huge impact on those under 34) got nothing but lip service?

I mean think about it. If you’re a politician who wants to get re-elected (is there any other kind?), aren’t you going to work hardest for those who are likely to vote you back in? Put aside partisan politics for a while - forget about the Democratic and Republican parties for a minute. Just on the basis of age, if a politician wants to get re-elected, whose rights is he/she going to pull for - those who vote or those who don't vote?

The point I’m trying to make here is that even if a younger person votes for a candidate that ends up losing, their vote STILL COUNTS because just the fact that they voted gets noticed. If the statistics were flipped - if more people in the 18-34 block voted than the 50 and older block - I wonder if the future of the Social Security System (and other issues that will affect pre-boomers) would be taken more seriously.

To those in my generation and younger who don’t vote, how mad will we be when we get to retirement age and find that all the money that we paid into the system has been sucked dry? Do you think you’ll still feel as if your vote didn’t matter?

And now let’s take a look at these excuses:

  • it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, things will still be screwed up
  • I don’t like any of the candidates

The reason these are lame excuses is similar to the age explanation above.

What if the reason it doesn’t matter who wins or loses is because the same losers keep winning because nobody bothers to vote them out?

What if we don’t like the candidates because there are young, eager would-be public servants out there who don’t run because they feel like no one will come out to support them?

The way I see it, the only people who seem to reliably vote anymore are hard core Democrats and hard core Republicans. And so is it any surprise that even though the views of the majority of Americans lie somewhere in the middle of the two parties, often the only people that seem to run or get elected are those who are on the fringes of each party? Again, just as politicians will cater to the age group of those voting for them, they will also cater to those in their party who are voting for them. And right now, it seems like only the far Right and the far Left are getting out the vote. And so it’s no surprise that there are very few candidates who appeal to those in the middle.

Take the current presidential candidates as an example. In chasing the nomination, both Obama and McCain fought hard for those in their party who they knew would go out and vote for them and for the most part, that happens to be hard core Democrats and hard core Republicans. Of course now that they’re the nominees, they’re both repositioning themselves a bit more towards the center but that’s because it’s only now that more moderate voters come into play.

The point I’m trying to get at is that if you’re not seeing candidates that appeal to you, maybe it’s because they don’t think you’d turn out to vote for them even if they were to run.

I suppose, this is a chicken-egg conundrum. Are more moderate, more representative candidates not running because they don’t think the votes are there to support them? Or are we not voting for them because they’re not running?

And while the blame for this situation goes to both those who don’t run as well as to those who don’t vote for them (those who don’t vote at all), I put more of the blame on the non-voters; it takes thousands (if not millions) of dollars to put on a campaign; it also takes hundreds of long hours of hard, sweaty work; it takes putting one’s self out there in the most vulnerable way possible. In contrast, it only takes a few minutes to vote and it doesn’t cost a dime. So I don’t blame potential politicians for not running for voters who aren’t there because the costs for them are very high. I blame those who don’t vote because the costs are very, very low.

So again, I make the argument that every vote counts, even if that vote is cast for someone who doesn’t make it into office.

Which leads me to that last objection: "I don’t know who to vote for."

And here is perhaps my most dangerous assertion.

I think everyone should vote (especially, selfishly, those of my age group) if for no other reason than we need to get our voting statistics up if we ever hope to have our voice heard in D.C. (or in our local policies). And if you don’t know who to vote for, let me make this suggestion. Vote for the third party candidate.

For example, in the presidential election, you could vote for Ralph Nader. . In the 2004 election, 99 percent of the votes went to either George W. Bush or John Kerry. The remaining one percent was split between about seven third-party candidates.

If you want to vote but don’t know who to vote for and don’t want to risk voting for someone who might actually end up in office, try voting for someone on the ballot you’ve heard absolutely nothing about.

This way, the fact that you voted will "count" in the sense that it will be added to the tally for whatever demographic you represent. It will also have the added benefit of giving more credibility to third-party candidates which may (finally) break the two party monopoly in place today and make room for more new ideas.

In closing, I've always said that if you don't vote, you don't get to complain. If you don't like the way things are going in this country then vote. If you don't care a bit about politics, get out there and vote - casting a vote will pique your interest in the process if for no other reason than to see if your candidate made it in. And on a more personal note, if you've never voted before, it's kind of a rush. You're participating, you're out there at the polling spot with your fellow citizens. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I vote I feel more connected with and proud to be living in the United States of America.

There’s still time to register and participate in the historic 2008 elections. But don't delay.

Register now at www.declareyourself.com.

2 comments:

scrivener said...

The option to cast a blank ballot is also something to consider, if voters truly feel that their votes don't count or that things end up the same anyway. A blank ballot means one more person, even a person with no preference, is participating in the process (this addresses the "because you CAN" rationale).

Democracy, such as it exists in this country, is a messed-up system, but it's a million times better than anything else that's come along. If people don't participate in it, even to cast a blank ballot, the system will be taken away and replaced by one of these less favorable options.

THAT's the main reason to vote: An irresponsible vote is better than no vote because it keeps democracy alive.

scrivener said...

PS: I don't know what you mean by your age group, but you are a year away from your late-thirties, my middle-aged friend, so enjoy considering yourself part of that younger demographic while you can!