Why You Should Vote

blog-image I hate ‘em both! But I’m going to vote.

The first presidential election in which I was qualified to vote was 2008. I remember it well; the election was on November 4—also my friend's 21st birthday. We were seniors at Kent State and went out celebrating at the Zephyr. It was exciting to drink beer out of cold mugs and watch the results come in on the news state by state. When they finally announced Obama had won, the whole place roared in celebration and the bartender served free red, white and blue striped shots—Obama bombs! I remember one woman clapping furiously as she stared at the television—so overjoyed she was crying.

While there are certainly strong supporters of each of today’s candidates, it doesn’t feel exactly the same. Pollsters have noted this is the first time in the history of polling that both major party candidates are disliked by a majority of people going into the election. Members of the same parties are at odds. Many Americans are talking about voting for who they feel is “the less of two evils,” for a third-party candidate or even not at all.

I’ve been frustrated too. I was disappointed in my country, in the election process. Surely with more than 300 million Americans we could come up with two better than this! I set out on a search to find answers and decide how I should proceed come November 8.

I started at home. My mom says, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” My dad watches more C-SPAN and CNN than anyone I know, and with his depth of political knowledge can probably vote more intelligently than most, too. Yet, out of his own frustrations, he doesn’t. Looking to get a more professional perspective, I reached out to Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland.

“Voting is not only a right, but an obligation to one another,” he expressed to me. “People literally died so that we could participate in our form of government. And people also died to protect that right and the rights of our democratic society. In honoring the sacrifices that were made, the very least we can do is participate.”

Woah, that’s heavy. But he’s right. Many of us take voting for granted, but it’s easy to forget that people did die so we could have the opportunity to cast our voice. But does voting really get us anywhere? Does my vote really matter? Moulthrop brought up some practical points in response to my cynicism.

He referenced the Bush/Gore election of 2000. For those of us who were still in junior high, it all came down to Florida, a swing state whose recount dispute caused drama for several weeks before finally determining the outcome of the entire election. George W. Bush officially won Florida's electoral votes, by just 537 out of almost 6 million! Wow.

Moulthrop admitted to casting protest votes or not voting in the past, and regretting it. “Problems don’t get solved unless well meaning people decide they’re going to get involved,” he explained. “Voting and politics is about the possible, not the ideal. Move toward the ideal and push, but ultimately you have to settle. Politics is settling for what is doable and never letting perfect stand in the way of good.”

That really resonated with me—the possible not the ideal and not letting perfect stand in the way of good. Maybe I am idealistic because I’m young. Settling sounds like a bad thing, like being stagnant, but Moulthrop assured me that we are moving forward, and third parties help with that.

The two-party system always seems so forcefully black and white to me, each one fighting for the spotlight without ever giving gray a chance. But Moulthrop noted that third parties are often ahead of their time, and play an important role in pushing new ideas forward. Gay marriage and clean energy were once part of the green party’s platform, but are now important issues to republicans and democrats.

I saw less red after speaking with Moulthrop, but I thirsted for a scholarly perspective. So I connected with David R. Elkins, associate professor of political science at Cleveland State University.

“Voting doesn’t lead to a directly tangible reason for me,” he explained. “No, you vote because you’re joining a collective action that will someway in the future change things.”

Doing some “scholarly” research on my own (Wikipedia) this fits in perfectly with the definition of a political party: a group of people who come together to hold power in the government, agreeing on some policies and programs for the society with a view to promote the collective good or further supporter interests. Elkins helped me understand that political parties are not established by the government, but elected by the people to run it.

The Constitution doesn’t say anything about political parties, and when it was signed in 1787 there weren’t any. In fact, there weren’t voter-based political parties anywhere! So when those guys with wigs and wooden teeth invented them in the 1790s in an effort to win popular support in a republic, it was pretty innovative stuff. I guess that makes sense. With a huge country whose guiding philosophy (republicanism…thanks again Wikipedia) is so centered on individual rights and rejects monarchy and aristocracy, we need some way to collectively elect people who represent the values and interests of the majority of all of us. The two-party system might not be perfect, but it’s a way to get shrimp done.

Another light bulb went off when Elkins discussed state versus federal politics.

“There’s a hypersensitive focus on the president, and not enough on local elections,” Elkins said. “While there is dysfunction in the federal government—Congress is gridlocked—on the state level, America’s as great as it’s ever been. Things are getting done in almost every state of the union; they’re accomplishing goals.”

Elikins had a slightly different perspective than Moulthrop when it came to third-party voting or not voting at all. “Make a decision consistent with your own values,” Elkins said he always tells his students. “Whether a third-party vote is a wasted vote depends on how many people vote that way,” he said. “And if you really don’t want to vote in the presidential election, don’t. But the state and local level elections hold value.”

That’s a good point. You can’t help hearing about the presidential election unless you’re living in a cave (at this point, I’ve considered doing so). But while we’re hiding from the federal hollering, are we hearing what’s happening in our own backyards? Don’t forget, we’ll also be electing a senator to represent our state on November 8. And there will be important issues on your city’s ballot that will directly affect where you live. I know a tax levy on mine is crucial to the future of our schools. You can see what issues will be on your ballot ahead of time here. It’s important to make time to look into these.

I’m going to show up on Election Day. I’m going to show up because it’s my right, because people died, because I owe it to my community, because I want to be part of working toward the collective good, because I want to be able to complain and because I like to get things done. I hope you find your reason to show up on Election Day (or just get an absentee ballot!) too.

Kathie Zipp, Leadership Council Member