If there's one thing I'm terrible at, it's golf. If there's one thing I'm terrible at that is relevant to my life in the slightest, it's giving inspirational Hooray for Democracy speeches. Being a negative bastard in general and holding deeply cynical views (to put it mildly) about the political process makes it nearly impossible for me to give a convincing "Come on, let's all get out there and vote! It'll really change things!" speech. To do so now because it is Election Day would be inauthentic and frankly insulting to your intelligence as readers.

We all know that as individuals our vote is mathematically insignificant, especially in the context of the statewide races (including the Electoral College) that get the most attention. You have better odds of drowning in your bathtub than of casting the decisive vote in an American election (seriously – you have a 1:670,000 chance of meeting your end that way). Most people derive next to no benefits from the act of voting, and it's terribly easy to avoid doing it in our society.

So why bother? Here's what I can tell you.

First, it might not be much but it's what we have. In a country of 310 million people, the amount of political change that an individual can affect on his or her own is bound to be extremely small. Unless you happen to have a billion dollars lying around to start your own SuperPAC or you're willing to devote your entire life to working tirelessly as a volunteer for some party or campaign, voting is your only direct link to the system. That so many Americans feel that the process of voting is being manipulated is especially troubling in this light. If we don't have that, then we don't have anything.

Second, there is something you can do with your ballot that will make your life and/or the world around you incrementally better. We focus on the biggest races where our votes matter least, but the ballot is long. You can vote to keep some Bible-thumping moron off the local school board so hundreds of kids aren't taught that cavemen rode dinosaurs. You can vote for a local bond issue or proposition that funds basic social services. You can vote to retain an honest judge. You can vote for someone with half a brain to sit on your city or town council. In all of these cases, the math working against your one vote is not nearly as daunting.

It may not be anything exciting. You aren't going to pick the next president on your own. Nonetheless, there's something out there worth voting for and there's only one thing you can do about it.


  • The local right-to-life PAC left their flyer and voting guide on my door. I appreciate their efforts in offering their guidance and it will most assuredly inform my voting decisions.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    In 310 million country, you never represent one person. Tens or hundreds of people behave politically like you. You don't know them, you never met them, but their vote or no vote equal yours. Fifty thousand, just an example, votes make a difference. They may be crucial. They may be the difference between a crook and the neighbor next door.

  • Rolling Barrels says:

    The other main point is that you don't have any say/power over the government at all, whatsoever, if you don't vote. Political parties give exactly 0 fucks about you and your interests. If enough people like you don't vote, your interests will be actively fought against to gain favor with other groups. Those who determine public policy will write you off as 'Cured of the desire to vote, check back with negative ads every cycle.'

    Basically, if your interests differ from those of the absurdly rich, not voting is the exact thing they want you to do. If they could pay you not to vote, they would (and with negative ads, they kind of are.) Will you be a nice, conciliatory "I can't vote for the lesser evil, so I won't vote at all" that evil wants you to be? Or the always-registered, always-voting Citizen that corporate interests are dearly afraid of?

  • As a proud resident of our nation's capital, I will (happily) cast a completely meaningless vote for the Kenyan socialist today. (I haven't seen any DC polling, b/c who would waste their time doing that? But I assume Obama carries DC with 90%.) But the down-ballot stuff here in DC is pretty important! For at-large council, there are actually two candidates worth voting for (for two seats). This is something of a rare event, so I am excited about it.

    Also, I always take my daughter with me (since she was 5 months old) to vote, so I'm doing my part to socialize a new generation of (Democratic) voters.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    My Father passed away in April, so someone has to replace his Obama vote.
    Please cast your vote for President Obama, since my never-got-to-be 87 year-old Father can't.
    Obama is far from perfect – but never let the imperfect lose to the evil. And, if Mitt ain't quite that, in your opinion, then Ryan surely is.

    We have to stop the Conservative's Fascist agenda. Today, is newest Day 1 in that never-ending battle.

  • I like the drop of water analogy – one drop doesn't do much. But get enough together and you have a flood. Just sayin'.

  • Hey Mjr:

    Just practice swinging that back on forth a few more times and you may have a chance as the GOP candidate next cycle ;)

  • It's simple. You have to vote. If your neighbors want to elect Jeffrey Dahmer to run your preschool, would you decide it's too much trouble to fight it out? Just because an incomprehensibly large number of people have decided that it's simply easier to believe that the wolves are really just cuddly sheepdogs, that doesn't mean that those of us who trust our eyes should throw up our hands and give up at the last minute. If we lose, we really lose, but let's not worry about that until we have to.

  • You can vote to keep some Bible-thumping moron off the local school board so hundreds of kids aren't taught that cavemen rode dinosaurs
    Of course since there is straight-ticket voting and an institutional 2-party system infused with hatred the bible thumper is likely to win if the red party president is favored in your local area.

    If your neighbors want to elect Jeffrey Dahmer to run your preschool
    If you run enough TV ads saying that the 'other guy' is worse (or link him to Blagojevich in IL) and Dahmer has the right color tie on he's going to win.

    Seriously — I hate the 'local issues matter' BS without the context of reality that voters casting a ballot for local decisions are highly likely to vote for the local party that matches their national vote and are likely even less informed about their decisions than the national ones. Not to mention the realities of gerrymandering and zoning/wards & property taxes as racial and moral divides on mid-tier elections.

    The system is broken. (full stop) Stop trying to justify it with moronic voting 101 shit to tell people their vote is important and that they should vote. Voter turnout will be under 60%, likely under 55% and there won't be a slew of educated local-issues-matter votes that weren't present in previous elections. The way to improve this isn't to vote – it's to keep bitching and get laws changed so elections aren't run this way. If you want to vote, fine, but please don't stop bitching and please don't fall into the complicit 'you can make a difference'.

  • @ Chicagojon

    Let me say it again. 500 Gore non-votes were all that separated us from an eight year long kick in the balls.

    Elections matter.

    Votes matter.

    That is a lesson I'll take to my grave.

  • Except voting for my local school board is basically like not voting at all. Case in point:

    Last election there were 7 people for 3 positions. The people on the ballot only had their address listed. No party information, nothing to indicate who they are or even whether they have children in the school system.

    My town has about 13,000 people. I can't possibly know who they are or what their policies are and since the down doesn't require that they explain their positions ahead of time, I really have no idea who they are or what they will do when elected. So I need to pick three of them but I have no idea what they will do.

    I do know who the incumbants are, so I guess I can vote someone out if they pissed me off…

  • Here's my rah-rah speech —
    I work for a union. We're obviously political. We get outspent constantly, but we have tons of members. We win a lot of local elections. Why? Because that downballot stuff is ignored by everyone, so most of the time getting 1,000 people to turn out wins. It probably still will. This obviously matters to us, but it should also matter to you, maybe even more than the presidential contest. Local politics is the stuff that you actually see directly with your own two eyes (why is my public school a warzone? Why is my road deteriorated to something less than gravel? Why don't I have trash pickup anymore unless I pay over $1,000 a year?) and yet we can win it by getting 1/10 of our members to show up, and they have a direct financial incentive to do so. Remember that, and no matter if you like us or don't, get out there to vote.

  • @ Sluggo

    And I will point out (again) that Gore not only likely won Florida in 2000, but Kerry likely won Ohio in 2004. These aren't examples of 'your vote matters', however, they are examples of how this shit is broken. Since 2000/2004 voter accessibility is clearly worse and the willingness to fight/question not only the results but individual voters before and while they approach the polls has gone up. I'll reference this again if we have a 2-week 'let's figure out who won ohio' window after tonight as Ed pointed out yesterday.

    I agree that elections matter and votes matter. They just don't matter in the way that US people think they do. Actually, that isn't entirely true — the fact that 45% of the electorate isn't going to vote is a sign that the electorate knows that the system is terrible.

  • Claiming "the system is broken" implies that it ever worked well in the first place. As if.

    Does bitching work? About as well as stuffing peas up your nose and threatening to hold your breath until you died worked at age 5, I guess.

    Rioting, maybe? Who wants to take the first bullet?

  • mel in oregon says:

    go ahead & vote if you feel you must. voting is a waste of time. the reality is we have a corpratocracy controlling both parties. changing things from the ground up is a futile delusion many liberals have. life for the poorer half of americans won't change by electing joe blow as dogcatcher. put your energy into something more useful.

  • Tom Bloodgood says:

    @ Deep

    Our local newspaper has an online Voters Guide where they try to go out and find out about each candidate to give potential voters some information to make a decision with. Sometimes they don't get anything from the candidate. Most times they can at least tell you where they are from, if they have any schooling, how long they have lived here, if they have held any prior offices, and, most importantly, if they are involved in any criminal proceedings, ethics inquiries, or done or been involved in anything newsworthy.

    Every two years, I look up their guide. It is super helpful. You may want to see if your local newspaper does something similar.

  • That's cool Tom. Sadly, my local paper is just a advertisement rag. I don't think they employ actual reporters. The regional paper covers state issues and issues for the bigger towns, but not mine.

  • @ Deep (and Tom)
    The local 'Patch' online sites in our area had better coverage this year than our local newspaper (which admittedly isn't that bad). They had YouTube videos of local candidate debates, which are boring but highly informational. Try those if you have them.

  • Deep and others, check the state voter website as well. In Utah there's an online voter guide that you can sort by your precinct, with links to all candidates' websites (if they have them) and/or a couple paragraphs written by the candidate. Locked down things like who I'm voting for in the school board races that way.

  • Yeah, I tried that, but my state website only has US senate and congressional race information. Nothing about state legislators or the guys running for local counselor offices.

  • gawd, Jacobin is better than crack:

    "Veteran labor activist Bill Fletcher, Jr, writing in his Organizing Upgrade blog, argues that election perspectives need to be strategic, and that dismissing electoral politics as hopeless or building third parties out of whole cloth “are actually unpolitical and lack any sort of concrete analysis.” He’s right. Absent strategy, anything else is just expressing a shopping preference."

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