By William A. Foster, IV
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” – James Bovard
In the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor’s character Montgomery Brewster attempts to spend $30 million in 30 days. As part of his spending spree he decides there is no better way to get rid of his money than run for the mayor’s office in Chicago, but there is a catch. The catch being he wants the citizens of Chicago to vote for none of the candidates, not even himself (above picture). Brewster says at his press conference after being asked about his sudden and unexpected candidacy that, “I figure voting for Salvino or Heller is just as silly as them running for office. That’s as silly as me running for office. What is not silly is the power of the people’s vote. I think the people should use it to vote for – None of the above!”
After the 2014 midterm elections I realized that I have real issues with the “No Vote – No Complain” crowd. I have a fairly economically and ethnically diverse group of friends via social media. Those who seem to “chant” the loudest about voting I dare say tended to be the lower end of the wealth spectrum and African American, although to be clear not exclusively. I will say I may not have the most diverse set of friends in terms of educational obtainment. Almost exclusively, all of my friends have at least a bachelor’s degree and a good many more have graduate degrees and beyond. However, education alone does not make one politically educated much the same way that education or a degree does not make one financially literate. The pictures showing them at the polling places, their voting number, or memes saying if you did not vote do not complain were fairly common place and yet I wonder how many of my friends and many other Americans actually knew intimately any of the politicians and their stances, political history, policies, and other potential items that were listed on the ballot.
I admire someone who acknowledges their vote may be NONE OF THE ABOVE or that they are not versed enough on the politics to vote. Unfortunately, most vote blindly and/or ignorant of the politician, party, or policy they may be checking for. Instead, the citizens succumb most often to straight-ticket voting for one party or another. Often with too many ballots to be knowledgeable about all the candidates running who do not make television ads or radio spots, but we all feel the impact intimately of local politicians decisions despite how little we know about them. So instead we blindly trust an entire party. In Harris County, Texas’ largest county and America’s third largest county Ross Ramsey, executive editor of The Texas Tribune, noted that two-thirds of Harris County voter’s pulled straight-ticket ballots. Ramsey noted via Dan McClung, a Democratic consultant in Houston, “estimates that 70 percent to 80 percent of voters would never get to all of the local judicial races on Harris County’s long ballot without the straight-ticket lever.” Ramsey also goes on to state, “There are relatively few people who know the down-ballot candidates: these are not politicians who get on television or who have well-financed ground campaigns.” Essentially, 66 percent of voters in Harris County blind voted because that is what straight-ticket voting is.
Non-voters can actually tell us quite a bit about problems within the system, much in the way the VIX tells us about volatility within the stock market. The most blaring and obvious problem that non-voters shows us the perceived quality of candidates that are running. If a voter does not like any of the candidates and has researched them, then should they vote? The argument of choosing the lesser of two evils is and always has been an apathetic concept to me. One could argue that laws could and perhaps should be passed that all elections in the local, state, and national elections to reach a certain voter turnout percentage for the race to be valid. This could ensure parties pushing forth candidates that voters actually want to turnout and vote for as opposed to feelings of indifference. Unfortunately, this has all kinds of political implications. The larger the turnout historically, the larger the tilt goes towards the Democrat Party and vice versa tends to be true for the Republican Party. Not only does low voter turnout show a sign of disinterest with the particular candidates running it also speaks to some degree to the accomplishments of the previous politicians in office. If one looks at the political gridlock in Washington D.C. right now, then can you hardly blame anyone for feeling disincentivized to vote? It is clear that over the past two decades the political system nationally has become so polarized that it really does not matter who you elect, very little will actually get done. Parties and our elected officials spend more time raising money to get reelected than they actually spend governing the country. There is also the historical aspect of voting. Yes, early voting has helped significantly improve voter turnout, but early voting still accounts for less than one-third of voters typically in elections. Non-voters speak to the fact that we still operate on an antiquated agrarian voting system. Tuesday was chosen because Sunday was a religious day and it usually took a bit more than a day to reach the polls so Monday was out and Wednesday was market day so Tuesday became the best fit. We have since gone through the industrial economy and now in the knowledge economy, but what has not changed – the voting day. Again, society’s disengagement is suggesting that there needs to be a change. The voting system needs to catch up with the times.
Voters are like fans of a professional sports teams. If the team is bad, but fans keep showing up, then what motivation does ownership have to make changes. As fans stop attending the games and stop watching the games on television the team starts to lose money. Now, my analogy can be something of a reach because unlike sports a disinterested citizenship then has their lives in the hands of the few who are engaged. There is no financial consequence ultimately to the country for non-voters, but there is a social cost. That social cost is that an engaged populace brings and forces new and fresh ideas to the table to move the country forward. Yes, voting is important (although currently it appears donors and political finance are more important – sorry), but we can not ignore what non-voters tell us about those running our communities, states, and nation. Instead of the criticism of non-voters, more citizens should treasure their vote and not just give it away. If there is a lack of voters, have we engineered a mechanism in place that analyzes why and what is transpiring the disinterest. I prefer we vote for a common sense holistic analysis of our system as our society evolves and needs changes, but we all know the turnout for that is unfortunately fairly uncommon.