To Vote or Not to Vote?

Every time Election Day rolls around, I find myself dithering over whether or not to go and vote.  I recognize that it is not only my right as a citizen of the United States to go out and vote, but it is also my privilege and my responsibility.  People have fought and died to give me the vote, and I don’t take that lightly.

But I really get bothered when it comes to Election Day.

This country was founded in idealism.  The people who came together to form our democratic republic had these wild and crazy notions that every person had the right to certain freedoms, and in order to protect the citizens from tyranny and despotism, this country was set up to be governed by elected officials who would either be voted in, voted out, or not be elected at all.  The voice of the people was expected to rule this land—a government “of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” (Quote by Unitarian abolitionist minister Theodore Parker in 1850, used by President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address in 1863.)

And yet I don’t think those honored founders could possibly have foreseen how large their little country would become over the next 250 years.  Comparing our system of governance today to its humble origins, it seems to me to be positively unwieldy, grown so large that it has lost sight of those small people it is supposed to be serving.

This is reflected in the way political campaigns are run.  We vote not for an individual with unique beliefs and original solutions, but for a political party, a machine that cranks out the same answers year after year with no room for innovation or new ways of thinking.  As a result, we become divided in our beliefs, in our hopes, and in our dreams for what this country can become.

Our right/privilege/responsibility to vote was based on the idea that every citizen has a personal stake in the outcome of the election—that every person cares who ends up in each office of power.  And I know that some people do.  But I think that we run into a problem of scale; those glossy, polished smiles that try to lure our votes from the television screens or the full-page ads or the mailer inserts seem so incredibly distant from our cluttered homes and busy schedules.  Our national, and even our state, governments feel strange and disconnected from our daily lives (at least until they pass some law or policy that offends us).

And when we look at soaring unemployment rates, gross inflation, and a very inconvenient recession, we turn to those we have elected to guide us through these difficult times…and we see them with their fancy clothes and shiny cars, and we hear them say that they think a “middle class” American is anyone who makes under $200,000 a year, and we feel their complete and total estrangement from our lives, and we wonder how, exactly, they represent us.

So when it comes to Election Day, I find myself wondering whether I should go to vote at all.  What am I voting for?  Someone who will represent me, my ideals, my interests?  Someone who will understand what I need and work towards making this country a better place?

I dislike the divisiveness that surfaces from its shallow resting place every time the political winds start blowing.  I deeply saddens me that we become so intent on having “our” candidate win that it doesn’t occur to us to work together towards fixing problems and finding common ground upon which to build our future.  After all, we are all human—we all need the same things.  But when Election Day rolls around, all we seem to be able to remember is that which divides us.

I think it is important that we all have a voice in the governing of our country.  I think it is important to talk about those issues which have meaning for us.  I think it is important to participate in dreaming together, so that we create a world of love and justice in which our children can raise their children.

But on Election Day, I always question: is voting really the way to do that?

-lm

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About Leaping Loon

I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving our congregation in Elgin, Illinois. While I am determined to embrace my propensity to wander, it oftentimes takes a leap of faith to do so. My life's motto seems to be: "Leap, and the net will appear." True to my spirit, and following Love's call, I must simply free myself to go. Where will I end up? Let's find out. Welcome to my journey!
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8 Responses to To Vote or Not to Vote?

  1. Lena says:

    Love this entry. I find myself in similar state of mind.

    In thinking about your question, ”But on Election Day, I always question: is voting really the way to do that?”

    I would venture to say it is not ”the” way to dream together and create a more loving and just world together, but it is certainly a way. Hopefully one of many ways that we as citizens participate in our democracy.

  2. Josh says:

    Great post Leslie. I feel like the majority of people, including myself, think that by voting someone else will be elected to take care of our societal problems. Keep up the great work, I really enjoy reading your perspective.

  3. reedsandstrings says:

    It’s not nearly a perfect system, of course, but it’s the one we have, and I can’t personally see any benefit to choosing not to vote. Are there other actions that could bring more benefit? Probably. Running for office, for one. Lobbying for changes to the system itself, for another. There are certainly more. But inaction? No. Inaction isn’t going to change anything; at least, not for the better.

  4. reedsandstrings says:

    P.S. I miss you! Will you be in the Rockford area any time over the holidays? But I’d be thrilled to see you for a coffee and knitting date sometime!

  5. Amy Poulson says:

    My simple thought is, what’s the alternative? If we don’t vote (even if we may feel we are voting for the lesser of evils), somebody else decides. Someone who might believe things should be very different than we believe. It is a flawed system, without question, but currently it is the one we have. By choosing NOT to vote, we exert zero power/zero influence. Is something not better than nothing?

    P.S. A friend once told me (funny but true), that if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about what you get.

  6. Leaping Loon says:

    Thank you all for your responses! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter.

    A few things I’d like to add:

    I think part of that responsibility to vote includes being an informed voter. Voting blindly is, in my opinion, worse than not voting at all. In the elections where I went to the polls just to fulfill my duty without knowing anything about the candidates for whom I was voting (i.e. voting down a party line), I came away from the voting booth feeling dirty. Yes, it’s important to make my voice heard in government and policy making; I just question whether voting is the most effective way to do so. I would rather have a voice by writing (on this blog, or letters to the editor, or petitioning my representative), or protesting (vigils, marches, acts of civil disobedience). In such an instance, it wouldn’t matter who had been voted into office; whoever the official is, s/he has a responsibility to hear me as his/her constituent. I would like to engage in dialogue with fellow citizens and work toward a solution together. I just fail to see how my voice gets heard by marking a ballot. If we were voting on the actual bills being signed into policy and law, as would be the case in a true democracy, I might have a different opinion about voting….

    Again, thanks for engaging in this topic! Much love to all of you. -lm

  7. Tui says:

    I understand your sense of helplessness, however, I always vote. Hey, when you live on the west coast, it can suck during presidential years. You get home from work and it’s pretty obvious who already won.

    Even so, on smaller, local issues your vote has more impact because it is less diluted.

    Our political system is far from perfect, I agree, but I don’t think retreating from the system helps. It just leaves all the power in other people’s hands.

    Just my 2 cents, of course. I found your blog via NaBloPoMo, which I am participating in, too, this year. I’ll pop in again to see how your month is going!

    Tui

    • Leaping Loon says:

      Thanks for visiting, Tui! I appreciate your views, as well. I definitely feel more inclined to vote in a local election. I was just pondering a notion this morning: Can you imagine a political system where we voted not for someone with a platform, but for someone who was promising to remain open-minded and willing to vote based on constituent input? You couldn’t keep me from the polls if someone like that came along! 🙂 -lm

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