Voting: A series of steps to better government
Some current voting statistics “estimated”
Total voter eligible population: 217,000,000
Total voters registered: 187,000,000
Total voter turnout in 2008: 132,000,000
Total voter turnout in 2010: 91,000,000
Total population of the US: 311,000,000
Roughly 70% of the population is eligible to vote, and of those eligible 86% are registered. For 2008 there was a turnout of 61% of eligible voters, and in 2010 it dropped to 42%. Most races are won with only 51%-60% of the total vote, meaning that out of all the total eligible voters, only 25%-30% of people are choosing the people that represent us, and this is just the tip of the iceberg considering that a MUCH smaller amount of people choose the candidates to be voted on during the primaries, so consider that the choices you get on election day are the result of 5%-10% of the population, if that. This doesn’t even take into consideration the complexity of the presidential primary system.
It all seems very overwhelming doesn’t it? The system is complex by design so that people will become easily frustrated and choose not to participate, whether partially or fully. It also doesn’t help that these processes are either not taught in high school, or are poorly covered.
The good news is that after looking at the math, you begin to realize that even a small number of voters could vastly effect the outcomes of elections considering that so few participate as it is. What does it require though?
Most people who run for office do it for one of two reasons, they either want to get their foot in the door in order to benefit themselves and those who back them, or they want to genuinely fix the problems we face. The problem is that usually those that are in it for themselves and the well-connected are well off enough to devote the time and money needed to win and have the backing of most media, while those who are genuine in their attempts are dismissed for lack of funding, volunteers, and media coverage. No one wants to waste a vote while they chase the lesser of two evils game, largely demonstrated by a dog chasing its tail. How’s that working out for us?
This all means that we have to make sacrifices if we want better politicians and better government. The current way of doing things is clearly not helping us at all where people go and vote once every two or four years. What good is this when at that point there aren’t any good choices to vote for, or when there is, hardly anyone was around at the beginning of the campaign to help bolster them so now they are perceived as having no chance of winning, furthering the wasted vote syndrome, which could be mitigated by a new election system such as approval voting, but that is another matter.
What are the sacrifices? First of all we need to realize where our votes will have the most impact, and that is on the local level. Local level officials have far more impact on your life than anyone else, and in order to make things happen at the national level, there must be a massive groundswell at the local.
Taking the time to learn about local candidates is a must, and this has to be done several months in advance of the primaries. Many races are uncontested, so if there isn’t a good candidate going into the primaries, search for one and if you have a notion to run yourself, go for it. Contact your local party or opt for an independent bid. Parties other than Democrats and Republicans, such as the Libertarian and Green Parties, likely will not hold a primary but instead a convention, which happens after the primaries have ended. Typically you can only vote in one party’s primary or convention.
Finding local candidates can be difficult. The easiest place to begin is a search engine. Look up all of the positions in your area and search for candidates who are running to fill those positions. This is time consuming and boring, but it has to be done. Go to local political events and keep an eye out for candidates. If they’re serious about their campaign, they’ll be there to introduce themselves to people. You can also contact local political parties and ask them for information about the candidates they currently have running. Find someone to support, even if it’s for dog catcher.
The most important part is getting some sort of footing and getting yourself acquainted with the local political process. Keep in mind that no one is going to agree entirely with you, and that while they may agree with you politically, they may disagree personally, and that is perfectly acceptable. Keep this in perspective and don’t let perfect get in the way of good.
Once you have learned about the candidates and have found some worth supporting, you must do two things:
First, a monetary donation to the campaign is a must. About 92% of all elections are won by the candidate that spends the most money. Money is needed so that the campaign is able to spread information about the candidate. Without this, the campaign will not be effective. A small campaign looking to be competitive is going to need to spend at least $5,000 in order to be effective.
Many will say that they are simply unable to afford donating to a campaign, but let’s be real with ourselves; twenty dollars is not much in the grand scheme of things. Remember that sacrifice we talked about? Is a better government not worth the twenty dollars that you could save by not going out to eat that one night?
Secondly, you have to donate some of your time to helping spread awareness about these candidates. There are a variety of ways to do this, simply get in contact with the campaign and ask them what options are available for you to help with. They will be able to find a way for you to contribute in a meaningful way that is easiest for you.
Volunteering may seem like a daunting and scary prospect, but it isn’t as bad as it seems, and can lead to you making new acquaintances and finding new opportunities. Without volunteers a campaign is going to struggle mightily. The more people that are involved, the better the workload is distributed, the more effective the campaign can be and the less stressed people will be.
Consider that just to collect 500 valid signatures would require roughly 120 hours of work, that in order to be safe you need 800 to ensure you have enough. This is for an independent candidate, most of the time the two main parties, as well as the Libertarian party, already have ballot access. Getting out to events and canvassing neighborhoods just to distribute door hangers will take much longer. This means that volunteering at least a few hours to the campaign is a must. A campaign with 20 volunteers would need to donate ten hours apiece for 200 hours worth of work. Just imagine what the campaign directors must donate.
Most of the time spent volunteering will be the first few months before the election, but there is always a need for volunteers during the entire time a campaign is active.
Some things that you can do are hand out information pamphlets, distribute door hangers, talk to friends and family, make phone calls on behalf of the campaign, write to the local papers, show up to political events with signs supporting your candidate, and just be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Ideally the campaign you are volunteering for should have options for you that will be tailored to the campaign’s unique circumstances, but don’t ever be afraid to suggest ideas.
Once election time rolls around, vote early and urge everyone else to do the same. If possible, organize groups of people to go and vote together, you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more that way. Don’t wait until election day. Once you’re in that booth, vote your conscience, and whatever happens, happens. Keep in mind that success does not come overnight and that everything you have done is building towards something greater. Big things have small beginnings.
Don’t be discouraged if the outcomes aren’t to your liking, there will be a next time. Should your politician be elected though, keep their feet to the fire. Stay up to date with what they are doing and if they’re getting something wrong, call or write them and let them know, and whatever you do, make it clear that they must earn your vote every time. If they know that you will vote for them regardless of what they do, they will never improve. Don’t waste your time on a politician that isn’t going to be of use though, even if you originally supported them. We’ve all voted for someone that eventually turned out to be different than we thought they were. Save your time for someone who will be effective and will work on behalf of those that elect them.
Not voting is one of the worst things you can do, second only to an uninformed vote.
Aside from voting, attending local hearings such as city council, water board, county meetings, advisory committees, and anything else that is posted is the best way to keep a handle on your local government. Go and listen to what is going on in your area, speak out on a subject if it needs to be raised or further elaborated on. Use the contacts you make while working with local campaigns to help keep a network established for the sharing of local information and coordination of action.
This takes a lot of time, energy, money, and dedication, much like anything else worth achieving. This is what is required for good politicians and good government to prevail. Is it worth it to you?
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