No matter what the mainstream media, your friends, and your colleagues tell you, voting does not create significant policy change. Think about it: The idea that voting makes a difference is ingrained into our culture. We watch reality shows where contestants are chosen based on audience participation through texting in votes. During general elections, we are barraged with voting advertisements, telemarketers, lawn signs, Facebook rants, and bumper stickers. Children line up in school to participate in mock elections. Does our single vote actually make any difference when it comes to major political elections, though?
Comedian George Carlin wraps up my sentiments perfectly when he famously stated, “This is the best we can do, folks. This is what we have to offer. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out! If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, if you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you are gonna get selfish, ignorant leaders. The term limits ain't gonna do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So maybe, maybe, maybe it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here. Like... the public. Yeah. The public sucks!”
Take, for example, the 2012 general election. Approximately 57.5% of the electorate turned out to vote for president, equaling about 126,000,000 voters. The electorate, of course, is made up of U.S. citizens of voting age who completed the Census, but it doesn’t take into consideration the many individuals who live in the United States who are not eligible to vote due to citizenship status, prior felonies, or other reasons (let alone the many citizens who reside overseas or are on active duty and simply cannot participate). Our system was not intended to be a democracy. We have a representative republic, and as such, the Founders felt that they were ensuring the minority had a fair shake on challenging policy. How’s that working out for us?
Let’s consider some of the recent scandals that have unfolded over just the last few months: IRS targeting conservative nonprofit groups, seizure of AP journalist phone records, the defense of extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens with predator drones in President Obama’s counterterrorism speech, and NSA leaks. The public outrage over the overreaching federal government programs has proven that the branches of government have been left unchecked by the electorate.
Some agitated dissenters have even reported that there has been little significant change between President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Huffington Post posted a picture of President Bush and Obama’s faces photoshopped together. This revelation has surprised some voters since President Obama ran in 2008 as a more civil-liberties-minded president who would limit the powers of the executive branch, become more transparent toward his constituents, and promote a less interventionist foreign policy.
Admittedly, there aren’t many policies on which I agree with President Obama. I would make the assertion that his 2012 re-election was one of the best scenarios for shining a light on how both major political parties represent very similar objectives in regards to expanding the federal government’s powers and endorsing the national security state.
Let’s face it. Sure, voting makes people feel good. The precinct workers give out a sweet sticker that can be re-posted to Instagram to show off how you did your civic duty for the year. It’s also easy to attack individuals for not participating or even ridiculing them for being apathetic. But will a single vote really change the expansionary federal government powers or insure proper checks and balances are in place between the three major branches? Will a single vote prevent a 1984-style surveillance state that throws the Bill of Rights out the window?
Perhaps you’re like me and don’t want to take part in a system which oppresses the minority in favor of the whims of the majority voting population. For those who are still very much engaged but sick of federal government overreach and the politicians who supposedly represent the electorate: Have no fear. There are substantial ways to influence public policy without participating in the voting process. The United States was a nation founded on acts of civil disobedience. Some of the most successful civil rights protests have involved minority groups engaging in non-violent civil disobedience. Promoting agorist, counter-economics is another great way to promote peaceful and voluntary interactions in society free from government’s regulatory oversight. For individuals who want to take a less hands-on approach, studying ethics and economics is another great way to (re)consider government’s role in our lives and could lead to compelling discussions with other voters.