Ahhh… The day after Election Day.
As I see it, there are two major takeaways from this year’s political fiesta:
1.) Of those people who bothered to vote, the majority likes the way things are. We will remain a state that has 400,000 low-income people without health insurance. We will remain a state that’s part of the pipeline that gives criminals easy access to guns. We will remain a state that denies the existence of human-caused global warming, and thus denies the realities of sea level rise. We will remain a state steadily marching towards traffic gridlock. We will remain a state that treats public education as an obligatory nuisance… ad naseum.
The thing that never ceases to amaze me is the fact that, in survey after survey, the vast majority of citizens continue to express their dissatisfaction with the way things are going, and yet we keep electing the same people over and over again.
image | Senator Frank Wagner
Who out there believes this is the path to change?
So, this brings me to:
2.) Voter turnout was pretty pitiful. It’ll take awhile before accurate statistical breakdowns are available, but I did a little preliminary math, and the results are downright depressing.
I took a look at the Seventh State Senate District, because that was among the more controversial races. In the 7th, there are roughly 200,000 residents (199,020). Of those, 73.1% are of voting age (I couldn’t find a reliable figure for how many of those are actually registered), or 145,285 eligible voters. In that race, there were 33,886 votes cast, accounting for a little over 23% of eligible voters.
image | Gary McCollum
Friends – how can we possibly expect to a have a functional representative government when 3/4 of us don’t even bother to participate?
Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Just what would it take to get the other 77% of you to take a little bit of your precious time on one or two days every year to be bothered to go to the polls and cast a vote? Why don’t you comprehend the importance of this basic civic responsibility? How many of these races would have turned out differently with a much greater level of participation?
The demographic breakdown will take even longer, but I can make a pretty educated guess as to what it will indicate. Once broken down into age groups, the numbers will indicate that the least likely people to vote are also the youngest.
In the last federal midterm elections, only 12% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 34 bothered to vote. I’m guessing that the numbers in this most recent election will be similar.
I just don’t get it. If you don’t vote, you have no voice. How can people who still have most of their lives in front of them not care how the government is run? I mean, it only determines what the country, state or locality you live in will be like as you live your lives going forward. No big deal, right?
Some people perpetuate the stereotype that millennials are lazy, apathetic and self-centered, and honestly, with all due respect, millennials don’t help that perspective by failing to vote. I mean, an hour or two, one or two days a year certainly isn’t a lot to ask for – particularly for something that literally impacts every aspect of our lives. There is no good excuse for not taking that time.
But I also think the answer is much more complex, and starts with this premise: Millennials think the entire system is bullshit and want no part of it.
Within the limited parameters I have available to me, the answer I hear from millennials most often is that there are no candidates they can enthusiastically support. They’re not interested in just going to the polls and holding their noses whilst voting for the “lesser of two evils.”
The problem with this line of thinking is that you’re doing exactly what those currently in power want you to do. If you’re not a dedicated acolyte, they’d much prefer that you stayed away from the polls so only those they can count on actually vote. In other words, they’re negativity and lust for power has not only energized their base, but de-energized the unfaithful.
So, just stop capitulating to the status quo. Let’s face it: our political system is currently rigged to favor the establishment. It’s run by two multi-billion dollar corporations (the Democratic and Republican parties) whose product is political power, and who dole out that power as suits their self-serving needs. They respond to money like a dog to a bone (“That’s a good boy…”), and practice disdain towards anyone who doesn’t buy into their orthodoxy lock, stock and barrel.
I don’t think millennials by and large like the candidates fielded by either of these parties, and with that I can certainly identify. No one has been a more vociferous advocate for eliminating the rules that favor the two parties and leveling the playing field for all candidates by utterly changing the way campaigns are allocated and can spend money than I have.
The biggest step in this is enacting legislation–or more likely a Constitutional amendment–that overturns the Citizens United ruling. The problem with this is that the two major parties are both grotesquely obese hogs at the trough, and will never participate in that which would ensure a loss of power by both.
But beyond this is a need and willingness to acknowledge the failure and inherent unfairness of the two-party system. For decades, I’ve strongly advocated for the emergence of independent candidacies (My first presidential vote was for John Anderson, below right). I believe all elections should be non-partisan, and that barring that, all voters should embrace thoughtful non-aligned candidates first and foremost.
There are two major problems with this. The first is that most people are, with all due respect, somewhat brainwashed to the idea that only candidates belonging to one of the two major parties can win (which is, of course, largely based in financial disparities, which overturning Citizen’s United would overcome).
Part of this mindset comes from the fact that, historically, most independent candidates could best be described as coming from the political fringes – advocating some extremist viewpoint or another. But that hasn’t always been the case, and certainly doesn’t need to be.
In my mind, the best independent candidate will be relatively agnostic in terms of ideology, and will be an open-minded, thoughtful individual, willing to listen to and consider any fact-driven (important!) opinion. Most importantly, and this is huge – they would be beholden to no special interests, but the people’s interests (Sounds nice, right?).
Another obstacle is the need to overcome the inequity in state law that makes it so much more difficult for non-aligned candidates to get on the ballot, but this is doable.
Yet another is identifying and courting a potential candidate. This won’t be easy, as the people who would likely do the best job of representing your interests are also likely not to be the kind of people anxious to dive into the insidious world of contemporary orthodox politics in America, nor people who can simply interrupt their careers on a whim. That means that, to some extent, you’ll need to be willing to try and enlist them – convince them to do it. (Tell them to think of it as a public service akin to joining the military for a couple of years.)
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this and hatching plots and schemes for more years than I’d care to remember sometimes. I’m convinced that a dedicated group of people can make an independent candidacy work, given the stipulations I outlined above, and am willing to help anyone who steps forward any help I can in successfully winning any race with no geographical area larger to deal with than a congressional district (I think that, as a test case, I wouldn’t want to try this in an area that encompasses more than one major media market). My ideas are a bit radical, but I believe they would work with the right candidate.
So, to anyone who isn’t voting because you don’t like the choice of candidates, I’m offering to put my money where my mouth is. The deadline is June 10 of next year to file for the 2016 federal elections. Anyone want to put together an independent candidacy in any on the local congressional races? If so, I have a few pretty good ideas to share about how to do it. It’s your move.
(Mike Rau ain’t afraid of no ghosts…)