I’ve decided to vote again in what will be my fourth major election (I turned 18 before November 2008, plus 2010 and 2012).
I considered not doing it. I almost didn’t last time around too — but I’ve decided once again that I should.
I won’t bore you with a long, patronizing column about your patriotic duty and all that. The Giants are in the World Series again, and you’ve got more important things on your mind till that’s over with.
Instead, I’d like to give you a few excuses friends and acquaintances have given me for not voting, and then explain why I’ve decided those excuses are not valid reasons not to participate.
1) Democrats and Republicans are basically the same.
Some of my more new-age type friends, in particular, claim that Republicans and Democrats seem different on the outside, but in reality are the exact group of power brokers with different names.
They’re only half right, though. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans receive funding from Wall Street, oil companies, and other special interests, and both parties have a long history of putting money and politics ahead of the interests of their constituents and the good of the country.
But if you look seriously at what each party has produced during periods of one-party rule — that is, control of both houses of congress plus the White House — you’ll find very different agendas being made into law. For the Republicans, it was, more or less, 2003-2007, and for the Democrats, from 2009-2011.
If you still believe that they’re the same, though, vote for a third party candidate. Which brings me to their next objection.
2) Voting for a third party is like throwing away your vote.
Call me a rebel, but I don’t like voting for the two main parties anymore. In the last election, I voted for several third-party or write-in candidates. Some say this is a “waste of your vote” because third-party candidates don’t get elected.
That’s just not true, however. They are far less likely to get elected than their mainstream counterparts, granted — but that’s in large part because so many people who are tired of the status quo are staying home on election day instead of coming out to participate.
Others who vote still subscribe to the notion of the wasted vote. To me, that’s about as logical as seeing a person getting robbed on the street but not calling the police or stepping in to help because, with all the crime in the world, one person helping one other person is like a drop of water in the ocean, right?
And so we perpetuate a system that doesn’t work by voting in the same people we keep grumbling about.
Furthermore, there are third-party candidates who are, in fact, making headway. There are currently two independent senators in the U.S. Senate — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
This election cycle, there’s a solid chance that another independent, Greg Orman of Kansas, will join their ranks, and there’s a small possibility that South Dakota independent Larry Pressler will get elected, too.
Some others: Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee is an independent, and the current front-runner in the Alaska gubernatorial race is an independent ticket.
3) The whole system is rigged and your vote doesn’t matter.
This one is a tough argument. People point to voter fraud, or the allegations of fraud in Florida in the 2000 presidential election that put Bush in the White House, the oversized influence of money in politics, or even conspiracy theories to explain why it doesn’t matter if you participate or not.
They seem to believe that by not voting, they’re sending a message to those in power that they won’t be tricked.
Well, I hate to burst their illusion-bubble, but no politician on the planet gives a damn about people who don’t vote. If you don’t vote, you have no say in what they do, and they’re not even going to notice you.
So even if you believe that your vote is meaningless, the only way you can assure yourself of having still less influence is to pout in the corner and not vote at all.
These same people often forget, it’s not just politicians on the ballot. Voters will decide ballot initiatives relating to everything from the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage to minimum wage hikes and changes to penal codes. These issues matter, and they’re sometimes decided by slim margins.
So take a few minutes and participate. If there’s a race in which you don’t like any of the candidates, I encourage you to write in a candidate’s name — even someone who’s not a serious candidate.
I wrote in my dad’s name in a couple of races last year. While I know he’d be a great U.S. representative, I knew he had no shot, given that I was probably the only one who did it. The point was in sending a message — and the only way to do that was to show up at the ballot box.