Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Why vote?

Warning: This post is not about diving.

Recently, I got  a great comment from one of my readers in Washington.

“Respect your views, but you might also consider the value of a “no confidence” vote, which can be a no show at the polls. Imagine if less than 10% of the voters actually voted. Would the winner be able to claim authority? Claim a “mandate”? Or would the populace have demonstrated a complete lack of faith in the system said to be representative?

If the two party system gets much more staged and obscene than it is now, a no-vote may be the only useful action available to the American voter.” —Nephew of Uncle Sam

Thank you for sharing your ideas.  I think I understand your objective, which is to demonstrate your dissatisfaction with the leadership.  I agree that a no confidence vote would be affective at achieving that objective.  However, I have to disagree that abstaining achieves the same thing.

The first question that comes to mind is; are you unhappy with democracy or the parties and their candidates?  I think it is critical to accurately focus on what is broken.

The last couple of hundred years demonstrate that the democratic experiment seems to work.  We elect good leaders and bad ones.  Recently, we haven’t gotten very good ones.  Congress and the Executive Branch are beholden to a system that is out of balance.  The current system requires huge sums of money to get elected and in order to collect that money, the candidates need to pander, spend huge amounts of time fund raising and be flexible in their principles.  The electoral system is broken right now.

However, I believe it will heal itself.  Eventually, the pain for the voting public will become great enough that they will develop the courage to vote for candidates that actually protect their interests.  I think a lot of our trouble right now is that the voting public is generally disconnected, under-informed and unengaged.  Eventually they will engage.  The current economic crisis may be the catalyst we need.  Fortunately, every so often there are great upheavals in the system and it readjusts itself.  I think we are in the midst of one today.

Therefore, I believe to further disengage on a massive scale would be counter productive and eventually catastrophic.  If only 10% were to vote, you are correct that we would be left with a elected official without a clear mandate from the populous.   We would guarantee another four years of grid lock and trouble.

Or worse, only the most fanatical would vote and elect an extreme right or left candidate.  The elected official that wouldn’t represent the interests of the silent majority; he would represent the interests of the fanatical minority.

You could say that is what we have in office today, someone who represents only the interests of the biggest donors, and you might be right.  However, those donors don’t normally represent the extreme fringe; it isn’t in their interests to do so.

If you look at emerging democracies this is exactly how despots get elected.  The majority decides or is intimidated not to vote and the fanatical minority elects their candidate.  Before you know it, civil liberties are further eroded, terms limits are over turned and the democracy is crushed.

Our leaders need a mandate to lead.  Just squeaking in doesn’t provide it.  It creates more problems then it solves.  I suggest, rather than not vote, we should further engage and work to change the system.  There are a couple of options.

  1. You can vote for a third party candidate who represents your interests.  If enough people do, we will get real change.
  2. Talk about politics and how the country is governed with friends and strangers.  Engage in civil discourse and engage them in the system.  I think it is ridiculous that we say you shouldn’t talk about politics at parties.  Where should we talk about it?  A plurality of ideas is powerful and life changing.  If we engage on a basic level, we can engage at the voting booth and with our representatives.
  3. Gather your news from multiple sources.  Read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, biographies and history texts.  Educate yourself and empower yourself to choose appropriate candidates.  Taking your news from one source, especially TV, is corrosive and doesn’t engage people in the system.  It is completely passive and wasteful.
  4. Get involved in the system. Run for office, run for school board, and implement changes yourself.
  5. Organize voter registration of your disgruntled friends and organize them around candidates that represent your interest.  Start local and go national.
  6. Take advantage of the ability to make micro donations to candidates that represent you.  The internet provides a game changing approach to campaign finance.  If millions of voters give a little, they can overcome the limited the dominance  of big donors.  Donate to candidates that will change the political  discourse and raise issues that you believe in.

These are just a few of the things we can all do to engage and change things.  The most powerful force on earth is a well educated, informed, engaged citizenry.  Look to history for some prime examples: The Renaissance, French Revolution, American Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Civil Rights Movement and the recent Technology Revolution.  All of those radical upheavals were driven by engaged, educated citizens, not governments.

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” —Lyndon B. Johnson, Washington D.C. 6th August 1965

Go out and start the process of change.  Decisions are made by those who show up. Thanks for writing and I look forward to your response.


1 MK { 10.13.08 at 12:06 pm }

Your ideas are momentous and I hope reach people and provoke thought and action, which brings me to the one thing I would like to add to your thoughts. Something that has really bothered me during this election season is how people seem to be repeating things they have heard without any thought. People seem to have become apathetic in allowing the media to think or not think for them. When thinking about our political system and the people who represent us, we must continue to question what we have heard, not just for the truth of the matter, but how we feel about it and how does it impact all of us.

I think an example may be, the Republican tickets family values. Putting all else aside for a moment, I have a huge problem with their family values. The Presidential candidate, for the most part lived on the other side of the country from his family when his children were growing up. He was very busy running the country instead of being home with his children!!! As a parent of 2 I know how time consuming and exhausting it is to be at the games, school plays, doing homework etc…. I know how hard both the mom and dad had to work to make a living and be parents! And yet we have a woman running for vice president who has 5 children. It is my belief that when one (collective as in both parents) has chosen to have 5 children they need to be home raising their children and running a household and really shouldn’t have time to run the country.
I hope this makes sense, but the thing is I really haven’t heard anyone else explore this issue in this way. People seem to be afraid of sounding sexist.
Having written this blog demonstrates my point that we need to think, question and think again. You’ve done it wonderfully.
If this makes no sense, call me and we’ll talk.

2 John K { 11.09.08 at 6:53 am }


Sorry they don’t let me vote being a Permanent Resident Alien. Please forgive me.


3 Hans { 11.09.08 at 7:33 am }

You are forgiven. However, there are options. You can naturalize and vote. It just takes a big commitment. Good to see you commenting again John.