Robo calls, negative attack advertisements, and political propaganda are enough to make us all sick of the election process. Many Americans have come to the conclusion that all candidates for public office are crooks, liars, and opportunists. As the old saying goes: “Why vote, it only encourages them.” Yet the best way to express your frustration with the process is to actually participate in the process and vote.
Unfortunately, at the Presidential level, at least 35 states are not “battleground states”, meaning that, barring a cataclysm, we can predict with near certainty who will win these states’ electoral votes. Voters in Idaho, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for example may interpret this to mean their vote does not matter. However, this is a false supposition. Your vote can matter in two ways. First, while the popular vote is irrelevant to the actual winner of the Presidential election (the winner of the electoral vote is declared the President), it can determine how much of a mandate the winner has. That mandate can determine the extent to which the U.S. Congress will be pressured into passing the President’s agenda. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson, on the heals of a 60.6% electoral landslide, was able to get Congress to pass 84 of his 87 proposals into law, including the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and a significant reform of the immigration system.
Many Americans have become disaffected with both major party candidates and decry having to vote for “the lesser of two evils.” There are actually other choices that should be considered. The high commands of the two major political parties use the hypnotic technique of repeating the line that “a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote.” In reality however, a vote for a third party candidate sends a message. It highlights a discontent with the choices of the two major parties, and if enough disaffected voters shed this Wasted Vote Mentality, there could be a potential electoral revolution. We saw this in Minnesota in 1998 when Jesse “The Body” Ventura shocked the system by defeating the two major party candidates to be elected Governor of Minnesota.
Besides the Presidential race, there are “down ballot” races, which also have real consequence. Your vote for congressional candidates will determine if the new President will assume office with a friendly legislative majority, or if the nation will have a divided government.
State legislative races may seem trivial, but they too can have a huge impact on the future of your state. For example, at the end of 2010, Louisiana State Representative-elect Noble Ellington announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican. His defection handed the Louisiana House of Representatives to the Republican Party for the first time since Reconstruction, making it easier for the state’s Republican Governor, Bobby Jindal, to enact his legislative agenda.
With politicians registering astronomically low job approval ratings, we must remind ourselves that we are the ones who put them into office, and we can in fact vote them out. Elected officials are just that: WE elect them. They are not inserted into our political system by extraterrestrials, nor do they take power by coup d’état. Rather, they are a reflection of the citizenry. The only way to supplant a politician we do not like is to vote them out of office. As former U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster prudently asserted: the American Government is “ . . . the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.”
Unlike many other countries, if we do not like the trajectory our government is taking, WE have the power to change it, all by the simple process of voting.