On one hand, I’m proud of my nationality. I was born in California, I’m registered as a New York voter and I enjoy the progressive history of American politics. The USA was the greatest experiment in democracy back in the 18th century when it established the world’s first secular constitution — without god or king— and much of its liberalism is alive and well.
So what’s gone wrong, exactly? Why is America such a divisive, crazy place? Why is my Facebook feed so full of anger and hopelessness? Why are politics so toxic, and how is it that our 2016 candidate on the left is such a sell-out to corporate interests? Democratic governance feels so woefully broken, everyone frustrated by something, and it seems systemic. Why is it so hard, for instance, to simply vote, and to have that vote mean something??
I’m trying to stay optimistic. Technology, after all, is progressing rapidly and information is more accessible than ever. (Too bad that information is so often skewed to its viewers.) But why, in an era of global polls, GPS and online banking is America still using this thing called the Electoral College for representative democracy? Why can’t democracy be direct?
It would be nice to vote for gun control and police body cameras and legal cannabis. I know that the Democratic candidate is our best shot at these aims. But I’d rather not vote for continued military spending, fracking and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unfortunately, in our money-driven two-party system, these conservative policies are part of the left-wing package.
Maybe I could vote for a third party candidate who better represents my beliefs. Unfortunately, in America’s first-past-the-post, winner-take-all voting system, voting for a third party is futile. Obviously a vote for the Greens is a vote toward the left, but instead of these votes counting for the Democrat (once the Green candidate is statistically eliminated), the votes are simply tossed. This is a glaring problem with the voting system. It should be fixed. It really shouldn’t be so hard.
Another large obstacle to actual democracy is our electoral college. This is how the president is actually elected —not by individuals, but by state delegates. New York, as an example, has 29 electoral votes. All of these votes go blue — to the Democrat. Along with California’s 55 electoral votes, and the other safe states in New England, the Great Lakes and on the west coast, the Dems will have a very, very hard time losing. After all, most of the country lives in these liberal „bubbles“. Texas, with 38 votes, will go red, as will the Deep South. All campaigning is aimed at the „swing states“: Florida’s 29, Ohio’s 18, Virginia’s 13, etc. These aren’t as unpredictable as they used to be…
Realizing this, it takes some of the urgency out of voting, personally. Since I am registered in a solid blue state, is there any point to me voting at all? Well, not really, except that if we all thought that way, we would be in trouble – people do need to get out and vote. Voting is a symbolic act for many Americans, since our votes merely tell the state electors what we want, and these electors already know. Nevertheless, it’s nice to feel like a participant, to vote for my own sense of duty as a citizen. It’s our major tool for social change – it would be silly not to use it.
Too bad it’s such a struggle to actually cast a vote. Voting Day is a Tuesday. It’s not a holiday. You have to go there and submit a paper ballot. Plenty of people struggle with this, in addition to the continued laws for voter disenfranchisement. Then there’s the absentee ballot, useful for us abroad. To vote absentee, we have to write an email declaring our interest. We have to then print out a piece of paper, sign it, print out a special stamp, mail it, then wait for a letter, fill out that letter, get another stamp, and finally send in our ballot. This is a lot of annoying work (for those of us without a post office at home) just to simply cast a vote that is quite meaningless in the end (and for a candidate you hardly believe in). And there’s even the fear that these ballots won’t even be counted in the end.
Why can’t voting be easier? I can vote for TV polls with a text message. I can take quizzes online that tell me how I politically align. Why can’t our government work as efficiently? Why can’t it adapt to new technology? Why can’t we vote more on issues and less on candidates? I’d love to support the right to die, to oppose the crazy defense budget and push for a universal basic income. Can’t I just make my beliefs known and have them then represented and enacted? Maybe online security is an issue, but so are physical ballot boxes, and the global economy exists just fine on the internet…
If educated voices could indeed be heard in expedient, clear ways, we could at last have a wonderful, direct democracy. Until then, it will be hard to convince many people like myself to go through the effort, even when we’re excited about changing policy and helping to create a better world in which we live.
Header image: White House via Shutterstock