Voting Thoughts

The American presidential election season always brings to the fore issues of government, civics, and most of all voting. I wanted to run down some of my thoughts on the subject.

What does a Vote mean to me?

The basis of the American government is the notion that a nation should reflect the will of its people, it should represent their interests and protect their liberties. The vote is a means by which people can express their political will in a binding fashion. All of us can say what we like, but it is the vote that comes with it an obligation for the state to obey us as individuals. Our only other binding expression is through the courts, but that can only hold them to the law as it stands, not to change the law.

For me personally, a vote is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege in that it is effectively denied people in many nations and so I am privileged to have the opportunity to express my political will and have it be binding. It is a responsibility in that in voting, I am in essence, trying to lend my own good judgment to the direction of the country. If I and others like me fail to do so, or if we choose very poorly, it could have serious consequences for people I care about.

I recognize that my vote may have no impact. If too many of my fellow Americans disagree with me, no real consequence will come of my choice. Also, I am but one person in a vast country so it is very unlikely my individual vote will sway any election or decision. At the same time I recognize that voting is a shared effort and if you expect any result you must participate and encourage others to do so. In any team effort, one person may not make the difference, but an attitude that no one does will lead to certain failure. Only by each of us making our small contribution can we together give our votes real power.

Voting is not the only political act I can engage in, nor the most influential, it is, however, the only political act that has a binding consequence. Anything else I do can be simply ignored by elected officials. Of course, the consequence of it is indirect even when it holds sway. Whatever my thoughts were in voting, the person I voted for can and will act as they see fit, and I may well have misjudged their character or thoughts on a given issue. That is where lobbying and letter writing come into play to keep them on course.

Who should vote?

I believe every citizen of sufficient age should be able to vote. While I can understand the desire to deny felons a vote, I think it is actually a good check on power to allow those imprisoned to have a political voice. If we imprison so many people they become a significant voting block, then we likely need some political change. Certainly, those who have served their time should be reinstated to the rolls if they so wish.

Plenty of folks bemoan that people they see as suspect can vote: the ignorant, the uneducated, or just those who disagree with their political views. It is tempting for me, well educated and in my own view smart, to want folks who I see as less thoughtful to contest my views. But fundamentally it is a democracy, for the people, all the people, not just the clever folks or the well-educated ones. No matter how smart I am, I can’t know someone else’s desires and wishes as well as they do. It is their vote, their choice, and they should use it for their own interests.

Likewise, if someone decides they don’t want to participate, that too is their choice. You could say that they are denying us the benefit of our wisdom, but there are times in life when it makes sense to let other people lead and there is some honor in refusing to participate if you feel there is no choice that represents you well. I’m not terribly sympathetic to those who complain about politics but don’t even take the time to vote, but I still hold it is their political right.

What about fraud and access issues?

I think it is very important that votes are counted properly and people are not allowed to rig the system. With activities on such a large scale, I think it makes sense to do risk analysis and pay the most attention to types of fraud most likely to have a significant impact. Things like making sure voting machines are not hacked, ballots are not “misplaced”, and other potentially wide-scale manipulations are critical. I think some level of error and irregularity is inevitable. We don’t need to be resigned to it, but it should be expected.

I also think it is very important for everyone who wants to vote to be able to do so. I am not against the idea of ID for voters in principle, but I think it should as easy as possible for people to obtain it. I also think it is important that voting is accessible to the largest number of people possible. That means offering multiple means to vote. There should be in person voting and mail-in voting, and I hope some day on-line voting. Any one of these alone would disenfranchise people for no good reason. Having all of them gives the most opportunity. Voting by mail is likely the one who can reach the most people and I always found it favorable to going to the polls.

What about money in politics?

I have mixed feelings on this topic. It certainly takes big money to run statewide and national elections. Money can have a massive impact in a race by persuading voters to vote one way or another. I think that persuading people is a political right as much as voting. We have to be able to try and convince others of one view or another. Each person also has the power to make their own decisions. You can spend a billion dollars in ads and I’m still going to vote my own mind. I know it’s not true for everyone, but whatever they do, they have the ability to decide for themselves. Trying to “protect” others from disinformation or propaganda by censoring it is the same kind of elitism as saying others are not educated enough to vote.

Efforts to curtail spending on elections and politics are probably all doomed. Money will always have a voice, always find a means. In the end, we would have to silence people, control their speech, and dictate what can be said or not, and that would be no kind of democracy. I am a big believer in transparency in spending. I think any and all political contributions should be public record and it would be worth the public good to fund a means to make the information easily searchable by anyone. We have a right to free speech, but we don’t have a right to anonymous speech.

I think the bigger problem with money in politics is the influence that comes with it and that goes beyond the scope of this article.

Summary

I encourage everyone to do with their vote as it pleases them. Do not let others bully you into one action or another. If you want to vote strategically, do so. If you want to vote on principles, do so. If you want to not vote at all, abstain. My only admonition would be to be thoughtful and deliberate about your choice and to respect the choices of others. We can argue all we want, but once it comes time to make our choices, the choice is to each of us as an individual. Anything else and it is not a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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