The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.

Donít vote: Act!

The political system in this country is purportedly a democracy with the espoused goal of maximizing and protecting individual freedoms. The foundation of this democracy is the institution guaranteeing the power of the citizens over any other organization: the vote. This November, the votes of some citizens of this country will select our new president. Granted, finding someone worth voting for might be difficult. But with the right choice, the vote could quickly become an instrument for positive change. Or could it?

The men who wrote the Constitution of this country --- the men who designed the voting system --- were all men of a particular breed. They were all fairly wealthy, owned a good deal of property, and had a strong desire to maintain their position and power. The average American of the time --- the same poor individual abused by the British, the same who fought and bled for independence while the Founding Fathers sat behind the lines sipping tea --- were quite poorly represented in the Constitutional Conventions, in that they were not there. Consequently, from its foundation, our government was not representative of the people, and no important choice it made was ever really decided by the people.

The original voting system reflected this quite directly --- presidential elections were not popular elections; they were done by public officials called electors, who were appointed by the state governors. This system was never formally addressed on a Federal level --- apparently this was never of enough concern that it prompted intervention in the interest of democracy. Over time, the electoral system evolved by changes in the voting systems of various states, so that over time we came to the current Ďwinner-take-allí electoral system, and electors were reduced to a purely ceremonial role. (However, the idea of eliminating the now-outmoded position of elector never occurred to anyone.)

Antecedent to the evolution of the current Ďelectoral collegeí, however, was the evolution of the political party. The Founding Fathers were originally opposed to the idea of political parties, as evidenced by the lack of provisions for their existence in the Constitution. Within a few short years, however, thanks in part to the Federalist Papers, the major political figures had split themselves into factions. The emergence of political parties allowed a much simpler method of controlling the populace than keeping them from voting. With individual personalities vying for the Presidency, there was the danger of any independent candidate - perhaps representing a populist viewpoint - sneaking in. But by concentrating political power and authority in parties, independent candidates were delegitimized, making the threat of a peopleís candidate insignificant.

The same situation continues to the present day, although the modern situation is worsened by the longevity of the current political parties. They have so thoroughly consolidated their position in the political process that they are seen as encompassing the entire political spectrum, and the idea that they could or should not exist is foreign to most Americans, as is the idea of seeking new options.

This is not to say that a viable third (or fourth!) party is the best option for democracy. In reality, the whole idea of citizen control through American Constitutional voting is a mechanism unsuited for achieving democracy. Representative democracy is flawed exactly in that it demands that citizens cede their power to a representative.

In history classes, we are taught that our form of government is republican, since we elect representatives of the people. While this may be theoretically or even ideologically true, it is not true to reality. When we elect a President or a Senator, we do so not with the understanding that we are selecting an individual who will relay our opinion (or at least the opinion of his or her constituents) to the Oval Office or Senate floor; we do so believing that this individual will make the best decisions on our behalf. These two are quite different; the one implies that should the elected official fail to accurately represent the opinion of his constituents, he or she is failing in his or her fundamental duty. In a truly democratic political system, this would be absolutely unacceptable, since the will of the people would be the most important consideration. In such a system, our elected officials would be subject to instant recall if their actions were inconsistent with peopleís wishes.

Furthermore, there is the clear understanding that Senators and Presidents are not addressing the expressed interests of the masses, since there is no formal method for determining what the interests of the masses are. Since Senators are not beholden to the decisions of any body of their constituents except by virtue of election, the choices they make are those of individuals who have been granted far too much authority. A system that requires the concentration of authority in individuals is certainly not a democratic one.

When you vote for a President, you are supposed to give up responsibility for four years. You are counting on the person you elect to make the correct decisions for long stretches of time, and there is no recourse for removing him or her should they fail to do so. In this sense, voting is disempowering. When you elect an individual to make decisions on your behalf, you are less disposed to seek solutions to your problems yourself; all power has been handed to the elected official. So while an empowered populace might otherwise be able to act independently of its government to reach positive solutions, the existence of state machinery creates the illusion of majority rule and discourages action.

What is the harm in voting, you might ask? After all, itís only a small mark on a ballot and doesnít take much time. It doesnít require much effort, and if it has a positive effect, if it results in a higher quality of public official, why not do it?

By writing this, I donít mean to discourage you from voting. Simply not voting is just as much of an endorsement of the system as is voting for George W. Bush. On the contrary, you should view voting as a very small step in achieving political goals. If you a candidate appeals to you on the basis of some political opinion, you should vote for that candidate. But voting is not the basis of a democracy - an aware citizenry that actively participates in the political process is. So if you do choose to vote and reinforce the anti-democratic American form of government, undermine it in the interest of democracy by taking political power back into your own hands. If you care at all about a cause, get out and ACT on it! Donít leave anything up to some political savior.


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.