Friday, September 12, 2014

Voting (or Not) and Rhetoric of Engagement

Eligible citizens in the United States don't vote. A majority of 18 to 25-year-old voters have little faith in government and no desire to serve in public office.

Personally, I don't blame them. I was engaged until about 2006. My disengagement is as much a statement as my direct participation was. Too often, though, partisans can't understand that not being engaged is a rhetorical choice.

What if a person truly believes that both major parties are horrible for the United States and the world? The notion of voting for the "lesser of two evils" still requires voting for evil.

A pacifist I know explained it this way: She cannot, for any reason, vote for any president or party that is likely to take any military action. This is a deep religious conviction. How would she express this conviction? Voting for a minor party doesn't change the outcome, and no major media outlets cover those candidates.

I deeply object to policies of the two major parties. I cannot endorse the lesser of two evils, either. It's just too dispiriting. And many third parties are not on the ballots in every state or congressional district.

For my friend and me, my engagement is limited to doing things in our communities and speaking about our ideals. But voting? Until "None of the Above" is on all ballots, that's a problem.

My theory is that many, many citizens are choosing not to vote, and that is a rhetorical argument against the major parties and our electoral system. Not voting sends a loud, clear message that people feel powerless.
Everyone Says Turnout is Key, Why Does it Keep Going Down?
Washington Post
Dan Balz, Chief correspondent
July 26, 2014

Taken together, just 15 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots — or 18.2 million people out of 122.8 million eligible. Turnout was 17 percentage points lower than the most recent high-water mark of 32 percent in 1966. Democrats were down 14.5 points from their 1970 high, or 20.9 percent of eligible citizens, and Republicans were down five points from their 1966 high of 13 percent.
Democrats have said that making voting easier and more convenient will lead to greater participation, but there's no data to support that claim. In fact, Oregon and California, two states with the easiest access to voting, have horrendously low voting rates. Oregon votes by mail, and California lets you vote by mail or at the polls.
Four of the 25 states that have held primaries so far allow same-day registration. All saw turnout decline between 2010 and 2014. Oregon, which uses mail ballots, saw record-low turnout. California, where two-thirds of voters mail in their ballots, saw the lowest turnout ever.

The results in states that allow in-person early voting or no-excuse absentee voting were no more encouraging. Eight states that have held primaries this year employ both procedures. Two saw turnout increase; six had record lows.
I have tried to be involved in local elections. I was in the past, but today I find it nearly impossible to learn much about local elections. I fear politicians want to make it difficult to be engaged outside the two parties. Our system rewards the partisans in the two major parties, but not people wanting to make a statement against the status quo.

A colleague asked me about state politics this week and was surprised to learn that I knew little about my new state. I had to admit, I didn't understand the political machinations of our previous state, county, or city, either.

My wife and I were born and raised in California. I understand the political structures of cities, school districts, counties, and states. I knew the system well, with several friends working in government and a few holding office. The system is actually rather simple, and recent changes make it even easier to grasp. I still know the names of current mayors, supervisors, and state office holders.

California has non-partisan, open primaries. And this new approach did nothing to reduce partisanship because regions are so purely red or blue in the state that even non-partisan redistricting can't make the cities or rural areas more competitive.

At least I understood California elections. I voted, even though there were seldom any competitive races. The city council and county board often had unopposed candidates, indicating that not only is there a lack of interest in voting… there's a lack of interest in running for office!

But the political complexities of other states leave me entirely disinterested in the politics. Parties remain entrenched, with regional and state conventions. Party loyalists rise to power, dragging along debts to other party supporters. I don't like the endless campaigns, either.

Our township is within a borough is within a county. The school district has minimal geographical coherence. There's a sanitation board, for a district that doesn't adhere to other boundaries, either. There should be cities and counties, period. There is no need for so many elected groups in a small region.

I don't want to belong to a party. I don't want to register my beliefs or ideals (or lie about them) to vote in primaries, either.

People say you have to vote to have a view. Excuse me? I couldn't find out anything about local candidates. I tried. I even went to the county seat to look for voting guides. There was nothing of value online or in print. Some spoke to party meetings, but you have to belong. Few local races feature debates.

I was told if I wanted to learn more, that the two parties had large rallies in the main county park. Yes, because rallies are good for learning. No, rallies remind me why I dislike parties and groups of like-minded people in large numbers.

At the state level, I haven't formed any strong opinions beyond disliking every political leader I have heard speak. Voting for people I find equally banal is depressing. A vote for anyone outside the two parties is a waste, while I loathe the parties equally. Their candidates are disgusting.

In my dream world, candidate would have profiles online, including how they might vote on major issues. I'd vote from home, in private, and be left alone. No commercials, no yard signs, no annoyances that lack substance. Address the issues, and let me vote.

How can we revise our system? If voting by mail isn't working, if week-long voting isn't working, then clearly the problem rests with the candidates and parties. Give people something to vote for instead of arguments about lesser evils.

A city political leader I know said I should support his party since I agree with them 40 percent of the time. His argument was that agreeing on a plurality of issues should be sufficient. No. If I disagree with your party's positions on 60 percent of major issues (to me) and 80 percent of positions of the other party… that's not giving me much of a reason to vote for anyone.

"We're less disgusting than those really horrible people in that other political party." Yeah, that's a selling point. No thank you.

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