I watch all of the debates. I allow myself to be drawn into long back-and-forth conversations on Facebook and in the dining hall. I write columns and papers on politics and policy issues. I even major in Political Science. For these reasons, most of my friends are genuinely surprised when I reveal to them that as a rule, I do not vote in elections. They remind me that I’m opinionated and informed, that I love democracy. I reply that these things have nothing to do with voting.
What’s in a vote? In my view, voting is primarily an affirmation of the central conviction of a democracy: The notion that the best government is achieved by determining the true collective will of the people. I believe wholeheartedly in that concept. I wish more people would view it as their duty to vote for what they think would be the best policies for the polity, instead of voting merely to indicate what they perceive to be best for themselves, but we can’t always have our druthers. Churchill gets the last word on this one: Democracy is the worst form of government, save for all the rest. Case closed.
But voting is one more thing besides that affirmation. It is an expression of faith that the system by which we vote actually and truly reflects that collective will. Our current system is a far cry from that, and so I cannot in good conscience express my faith in our system with a vote.
Because of the way the electoral college works, geographic proximity to people of a particular political persuasion nullifies my vote for any president. In Connecticut, if I vote for Obama, he doesn’t receive any more advantage than he would have if I had not voted. If I vote for Romney, he doesn’t get a whit of credit for having convinced me, even if he loses by one vote statewide. I may as well vote for Reagan or Jesus Christ for all the good it’ll do the Grand Old Party. And because we’re such a blue state, I can’t even help decide which way we’re going to swing. It’s already a done deal for the Dems.
Many of my friends will be voting in their home states via mail-in ballot to dodge that problem, but I’m a lifelong Nutmegger (that’s a term for denizens of Connecticut, for all you non-Yanks). I’m still plum out of luck, even if some of you originally from Ohio and Pennsylvania get the dubious pleasure of being courted by campaigns targeted specifically to your particular plot of land on God’s green earth.
What’s left? Well, there are newspaper opinion columns and conversations with friends and colleagues. In those, I have a voice, I can change minds and the only determinant of my success or failure is the persuasiveness of my arguments. Right?
Well, actually, I’ve been reading quite a bit about millionaires and billionaires all across the country using their superior financial standing to flood media markets with television ads. I don’t even watch television anymore, with the exception of Patriots games, and so I can count the number of election advertisements I’ve been exposed to this season on one hand. But I know that’s how a lot of the country is persuaded, and I know I won’t enjoy that kind of reach for a long time.
Money and moneyed interests drown out my voice and most likely yours as well. The people who have the filthy lucre aren’t forced to do the hard intellectual work of painstakingly convincing others. They blanket the airwaves with hypnotic, focus-group-tested messages appealing to the lowest common denominator. And that wins elections.
If you believe one candidate or another is capable of fixing these two problems, by all means, pull that lever (or however it works — I’ve never been). I haven’t seen any leadership out of either party on electoral college and campaign finance reform, or at least not enough to be personally motivated.
Now, it certainly occurs to me that were everyone to be persuaded by my thoughts on this topic, democracy might break down even further. So perhaps my aim isn’t necessarily to get you to abstain from voting too. Rather, I only seek to make you realize the systemic disenfranchisement that takes place in our politics. If you’re a campaign staffer who might get hired after your boss wins, or your suitemate grows up to be a congressman or you yourself are someday president, remember this plea. Votes and voices should matter.
Until then, count me out — mine don’t.
Michael Magdzik is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .