(c) Josh Sager – February 2012
The voting booth is the vehicle with which the average American can directly affect their local, state, and federal governments. Voting allows for Americans to select politicians who represent the views and ideologies that they would like represented in their government. Unfortunately, massive increases of money in politics during recent years has decreased our faith in the voting process, thus some people see no point in voting.
Politicians receive massive campaign checks from interest groups, lobbyists, and corporations during their election campaigns, thus they become indebted to these interests during their terms in office. Many politicians take money or favors (often legally, due to our lax laws) from moneyed interests while they are in office in exchange for votes on legislation. Once election season comes around, politicians who have yet to sell their votes for cash are faced with the daunting task of fighting off candidates for their seat who may not be so ethical. At all levels of politics, we see the corrupting influence of money that threatens to overshadow our votes.
Why is it important to vote if our current political system has been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money? The answer to this question is twofold: First, the opting out of the voting system by large numbers of people who share an ideology will inevitably shift the balance of power to the ideology opposing theirs. Second, voting gives us the best available tool by which we actually can shift policy in our country to fit our ideals.
If large numbers of voters voluntarily leave the voting system in protest, the politicians representing the opposing ideology receives a far larger percentage of the vote than if the voters remained in the system. Imagine our political system as a scale; removing votes from one side of the scale will tip it to the extreme of the other side. A perfect recent example of this phenomenon is the 2010 midterm election. The massive demobilization of Democratic voters led to a wave of right wing extremists being voted into office. Even if it is a choice between the least of evils, voting is something that everybody should do in order to represent their interests, lest they end up helping those who they oppose.
If we don’t vote, we forfeit the right to complain about the actions of our government and give up any hope of changing the system for the better. Every American can use their vote to assure that their interests are represented. If a politician conducts himself in a manner that you don’t approve of or is against your interests, organize, mobilize and go into the ballot booth to get him out of office. Because we have the right to vote, politicians can only be as corrupt or extreme as we let them be.
Even with the corrupting influence of money, we can affect change through the power of the vote. Money cannot buy votes, and if enough of us get together around an issue we can overcome the influence of money (Ex. Civil Rights). Politicians may sell out, but we can organize and punish them come voting day. If a third of the country were to decide that they would not vote for any politician who took corporate money, how long do you think it would be before many politicians would stop taking lobbyist’s calls?
Voting is slow to affect policy and likely needs additional help to be effective, but it is a necessary first step in affecting change. Vote, but then go out and organize in order to assure that your politicians don’t forget just who they are accountable to next time elections roll around.