The Case for Voting

This story is from the Occupied News Wire. It was originally published by The Boston Occupier.

By Josh Sager

The voting booth is the means by which average Americans can directly affect their federal, state, and local governments. Voting allows Americans to select politicians who represent the views and ideologies that they would like represented in their government. Unfortunately, a massive influx of money into politics in recent years – as well as the perception of corruption and partisan gridlock – has decreased our faith in the voting process. Thus, some people see little point in voting.

Politicians receive massive campaign checks from interest groups, lobbyists, and corporations during their election campaigns, indebting them to these interests during their terms in office. While they are in office, many politicians accept cash or favors from moneyed interests (often legally, due to loopholes in our laws) in exchange for votes on legislation.

Once election season comes around, politicians who have yet to “sell” their decisions and influence are faced with a daunting task. They must fight off rival candidates who may not be so ethical or may have massive reserves of personal wealth to use in campaigning. At all levels of politics, we see the corrupting influence of money that threatens to overshadow our votes.

Why then is it important to vote, if our current political system has been so thoroughly corrupted?

The answer to this question is twofold. First, a massive opt-out of the voting system by people who share an ideology will inevitably shift the balance of governmental power away from their interests, at least in the short term. Second, voting gives us the best available tool by which we actually can shift policy in our country, so that it better fits our ideals.

If large numbers of voters voluntarily leave the voting system in protest, then the politicians representing the “other side,” or those with an ideology most contrary to protesting voters’, will receive a far larger percentage of the vote than if these voters had remained in the system. Imagine our political system as a scale; removing votes from one side of the scale will tip it towards the extreme of the other side.

A recent example of this phenomenon is the 2010 midterm elections. The massive demobilization of Democratic voters after the 2008 presidential election led to a wave of right-wing extremists being voted into office. Even if it is a choice between the lesser of evils, voting is something that everybody should do in order to represent their interests, lest they end up helping those whom they oppose.

If we don’t vote, we forfeit the right to complain about the actions of our government. We give up any hope of changing the system for the better. All Americans can, and should, use their votes to assure that their interests are represented. If a politician conducts him- or herself in a manner that you don’t approve, I would urge you to organize, mobilize, and go into the ballot booth to get him or her out of office.

Because we have the right to vote, politicians can only be as corrupt or as ideologically extreme as we let them be.

Even with the corrupting influence of money, we can affect change through the power of the vote. While money can influence voting, it cannot literally buy votes. If enough of us come together around an issue, we can overcome the influence of money and power – as examples of past activism, like the Civil Rights Movement, remind us.

Politicians may sell out, but we can organize and hold them accountable on election day. If a third of the country were to decide that they would not vote for any politician who took corporate money and didn’t publicly denounce Super PAC ads made in support of them, how long do you think it would be before many politicians stopped taking lobbyists’ calls?

Admittedly, voting is slow to affect policy and likely needs additional help to be effective. Nonetheless, it is a necessary first step in producing change. Vote, and then go out and organize to assure that your politicians don’t forget to whom they are accountable when elections roll around.

  8 comments for “The Case for Voting

  1. Worthless
    March 28, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    “If we don’t vote, we forfeit the right to complain about the actions of our government.”
    Excrement.
    People who don’t vote actively participate in the worsening of things. Just as someone who stands by and watches as their friend is knifed is compliant, so to are the people who do not vote.
    It’s not the 1% who is solely responsible for the degradation of things. The 99% who do not vote, who do not get involved, and are shocked when things go the way the people who do vote want… they are at least as responsible.

    • Chris
      March 29, 2012 at 11:13 PM

      This fall there’s a Presidential election. There are, as usual, only two viable candidates. One is a known liar and hypocrite who used his power to murder an American citizen and willingly signed a bill that blatantly violates basic American rights enshrined in the Constitution. His record shows him running toward the right fringe, time and time again, to answer the impossible demands of our Congress. The other is either an ultraconservative religious zealot or a modern day slaveowner who openly despises the poor. All of them are necessarily bought and paid for by large corporations.

      Of course, we could replace the membership of Congress, too. But Oregon’s representatives have been among the least damaging in recent years. I can do little else but to reelect them as necessary, and wonder why other states and districts in which I have no influence at all continue to elect the shitheads helping to drive this country to ruin.

      To suggest that voting in this environment somehow keeps the bad guy from winning, or that failing to do so negates our right to complain, is beyond naive. It is an insult to intelligence.

      • Worthless
        March 30, 2012 at 2:45 AM

        “To suggest that voting in this environment somehow keeps the bad guy from winning, or that failing to do so negates our right to complain, is beyond naive. It is an insult to intelligence.”

        That isn’t what I said. I did say that bad is better then worse. People are going to vote. Not voting gives the fringe insanity groups a greater voice. Voting not only drowns out the nutjobs who have dominated politics since the 80s, but it also gives us a chance to influence. Not just the President, but the local votes as well. Our school boards are packed with pro-corporate individuals that WE put in place because we couldn’t bother voting. The Water Commissioner and Metro boards are what they are because WE didn’t vote. Don’t like the Mayor? Guess who put him into office.

        I’ve heard the “I didn’t vote so I guess I can’t complain” line for all my life. It’s bullcarp. If you don’t vote, you don’t give up your right to complain. You are actively complicit in making things as they are. I don’t care if you vote Democrat, Republican, Green, Communist or Great Cthuhlu. But please, for the love of all that is holy, vote. Vote now, vote often.

  2. Parsley
    March 29, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    Sigh. Why won’t people realize that voting is NOT the only way to participate in politics? I’m not talking about running for office either. Voting is a corrupt system in which only the majority matters. I’m not a middle class American. I’m a little dirty anarchist street kid. Do you think politicians give two shits about my opinion? No, because I’m not the majority. They’re always going to cater to the white-bread centrist populace.

    In case I’m not clear, I don’t vote. Yet, I don’t think I’m making the system “worse” by abstaining. To understand that, you have to look at things through my eyes. A vote is a recognition of the government’s legitimacy – it’s right to exist. A vote is endorsing the hierarchy inherent in a system of leaders and representatives. The very act of voting is giving your personal power to affect change in your community. It’s a white flag of surrender.

    Let’s set all that aside, and pretend for a moment that I would give up my autonomy in a meager hope that Mr. politician will care about me. He won’t – being absolutely broke I can’t afford lobbyists. But, let’s say we obtain complete campaign financing reform and money no longer matters much. Who am I going to vote for? Mr. Ultra-rich corporate war-mongering patriarchal puppet A who will, over the course of his term, come up with new creative ways to rob me of my civil rights and liberties or Mr. Ultra-rich corporate war-mongering patriarchal puppet B who will do the exact same thing, with the bonus of sending his police force to beat the shit out of my friends?

    “Oh, why don’t you vote for Shitty Third Party Candidate C, D, or F?”

    A vote for a third party is even more meaningless than a regular vote. Furthermore, all parties are top-down organizations which function by making a few people leaders and the masses followers. That fundamentally conflicts with my belief system. Furthermore, I don’t think there is any party out there that wishes to utterly destroy the concept of “city”… they all reinforce the tired status quo which is slowly murdering every last living thing on this planet.

    I resent the notion that “Oh, because you don’t participate, you can’t complain!” Sure as hell I’ll complain. I’ll do more than that… See, ’cause I don’t give a flying fuck about rights awarded to me by the dominant culture. If you come in and bring your factories and tear up my soil, destroy my rivers, kill all my songbirds, torture innocents of all species, send my siblings off to die, etc. I’M GOING TO MUTHAFUCKIN DO SOMETHING because what you are doing is WRONG. Voting doesn’t make a difference when you’re voting for the latter either way.

    Listen. Don’t wait. Don’t vote and hope your guy will A) be elected B) do what you ask of him in office. You see homelessness in your community? Occupy foreclosed homes and give them to those in need. You see hungry people? Get together a collective, cook food, and feed them. Is a company chopping down all the forests? Chain yourself to a muthafuckin tree. Get together some smart people and teach your community how to live sustainably. Pant a community garden. Whatever you do, do something you’re passionate about. Don’t vote. In the end, your struggle may seem futile but at least you’re struggling instead of accepting the meek passivity that voting propagates…

    • Worthless
      March 30, 2012 at 2:58 AM

      “In case I’m not clear, I don’t vote. Yet, I don’t think I’m making the system “worse” by abstaining. To understand that, you have to look at things through my eyes. A vote is a recognition of the government’s legitimacy – it’s right to exist. A vote is endorsing the hierarchy inherent in a system of leaders and representatives. The very act of voting is giving your personal power to affect change in your community. It’s a white flag of surrender.”

      So… In other words, if you pretend the club doesn’t exist hard enough, it won’t hurt when it hits you?

      “I resent the notion that “Oh, because you don’t participate, you can’t complain!””

      This I agree with, but for a very different reason. If you don’t participate you are actively making the votes of those that “bring in factories and tear up your soil, destroy your rivers, kill all your songbirds, torture innocents of all species, send your siblings off to die, & etc.” louder and count for more. YOU are the one helping them bring in those factories. YOU are the one tearing up the soil. YOU are the one crapping in the river… Sure, you aren’t at the control of the bulldozer, but you aren’t stopping it either. Complain? We are past that point. We are well into “Hey, it’s not fair that my nose hurts when I slam my face into the wall!” territory.

      Hey, I understand hypocracies. God knows I got enough of them. But we are given all of ONE way of putting in our word. And holding your breath and kicking while the car goes over the cliff doesn’t solve the problem either.

      • Chris
        March 30, 2012 at 11:11 PM

        You’re not listening.

        Your argument is based on a false assumption – to wit, that eligible voters are given a choice in which at least one option is “good”, and that by failing to vote, they let the “bad” option win.

        In fact, there is often NO good option. There’s no way to win the game. That was the point I was trying to make with my Obama vs. Romney/Santorum example – even the supposed good guy isn’t good, and there’s NO candidate who will actually do what I want.

        Voting in such an election is like performing CPR on someone who’s been shot in the face. Doing it doesn’t make you a hero. Not doing it doesn’t make you callous. The victim is going to die either way. No amount of CPR fixes shot-in-the-face.

        Furthermore, your continued insistence that by not voting you are somehow an “active” anything is idiotic. You can’t “actively” do something by not acting. You don’t “actively” elect bad candidates by not voting against them. You don’t “actively” build factories and send people to war by standing around doing nothing. Please stop torturing the English language; what has it ever done to you?

        • Worthless
          March 30, 2012 at 11:29 PM

          “You’re not listening.”
          Hello, Pot.

          “Your argument is based on a false assumption – to wit, that eligible voters are given a choice in which at least one option is “good”, and that by failing to vote, they let the “bad” option win.”
          Case in point: I did not say this, in fact, I said the opposite. That there is usually a choice between a ‘bad’ and a ‘worse’.

          “In fact, there is often NO good option. There’s no way to win the game. That was the point I was trying to make with my Obama vs. Romney/Santorum example – even the supposed good guy isn’t good, and there’s NO candidate who will actually do what I want.”
          Hyperbole aside, you will acknowledge that while Obama is no peach, he’s somewhat better then the openly fascist Romney and the Theocratic Santorum. If you really can’t see the difference, then we are entering into religious arguments, in which case there is no point.

          “Furthermore, your continued insistence that by not voting you are somehow an “active” anything is idiotic. You can’t “actively” do something by not acting. You don’t “actively” elect bad candidates by not voting against them.”
          No. You give bad candidates a greater percentage of the vote. Which is the same thing as if you had voted for them. There is no minimum of votes needed for candidates (some of the local positions do). So even if everyone in America refused to vote save for one person, that one vote would constitute 100% of the vote.
          So, yes. By CHOOSING to not act, you are taking an action.
          If I stand aside while some guy comes up behind my friend with a fire axe, then I am choosing to let him die. If I know that there is rat poison in the coffee, yet serve it to Grandma’s bridge club anyway, then I am acting. If I see two candidates, one that will keep the same old crap going on, and another that will release rabid pit bulls into preschools, and I choose to not vote, then a pablum like “Well, I didn’t vote so I guess I can’t complain that my little brother was torn to pieces by rabid pit bulls.” is nonsense.

          “Please stop torturing the English language; what has it ever done to you?”

          Cute. Shall we go on to ‘yo mama’ jokes now?

          • Chris
            April 2, 2012 at 10:42 PM

            Sorry, I don’t trade “yo mama” jokes with people who have such a poor grasp of English.

            Inaction is a choice, but it is not an ACTION. By not voting, you are not in fact GIVING anyone more of the vote; you’re not giving anything to anyone.

            You are using the same kind of backwards logic that allows Big IP to claim that piracy deprives them of money and hostage takers to blame the police for the deaths of their hostages.

            I know it seems like a minor point to argue, but if you can’t even get this right, I don’t see how we can move on to discussing how voting is a sham, which is a rather more complicated subject.

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