I finally got around to reading my ”blue book”1 for this election last night. Even though the ballot measures this election are pretty much a waste of ink I am happy that I live in a state that has ballot measures. In fact, in most elections it is the only reason I vote. Almost everyone’s vote is wasted in most of the office races. I say that your vote is wasted because in most places in the US you have two choices:
Vote for the candidate the most truly represents your views. This candidate with almost certainly lose because they are a third party candidate. Even if you think that you are a Republican or a Democrat I bet that if you actually read up on the third party candidates you would find one of them that better matches your views than the major party candidate you are planning to vote for.
Game the system by voting for the major party candidate you dislike the least.
Either way you are almost garrenteed to end up with a candidate that will not represent you very well. In practice almost everyone chooses option 2 but damn that sucks. If you want your vote to count at all you are force to vote against the candidates with which you agree the most and for one of the two candidates anointed with the two “best” letters in the alphabet.
If you are lucky one or the other of those candidates will be corrupt or a wack-job so the choice will be clear. When choosing between the lesser of two evils is easier if one is obviously more evil. But that does not change the fact that you will have probably voted against a good candidate because they didn’t have enough money or bad taste to bombard you with annoying, mean-spirited and laughably implausible attack ads (I mean, really, no one is against motherhood and apple pie).
Is it any wonder that there are so many people apathetic about voting? It does not surprise me. Any sane person can look at the system and see that their vote is wasted. Rather, I am surprised how many smart people actually think that voting is useful and meaningful.
The most common approach of rationalizing the usefulness of voting is to latch onto one or two issues and vote based entirely on those. You can usually find a major candidate that agrees with you on a couple of issues. If you decide that the other issues don’t really matter then it does not matter that your candidate of choice disagrees with you.
Others just choose not to vote, either out of apathy or out of protest. I have often chosen not to vote out of protest in the past. The very act of voting legitimizes this obviously broken system. On the other hand, there are ballot measures, non-partisan races and the occasional crook/incompetent that you really should vote against at all costs. And no one really counts the non-votes so as a protest measure it is not particularly effective.
There are a lot of voting systems and almost any of them would be better than what we have now. A better voting system for would not break the strangle hold the major parties have on the the US political system but it would be a good start. With something like approval voting you could vote for the candidates you liked with out increasing the risk of the candidates you dislike getting in to office. That would mean that some those really good third party candidates would have a fighting chance. We have the power of ballot measures in Colorado, would someone please use that power to get us a better voting system.
Until that happens I will continue go to the polls and vote knowing that, for the most part, my vote is both counted and wasted.
For those of you not in Colorado the “Blue Book” is a small booklet provided by the state government with information about the ballot measures. The texts of the ballot measures are provided but the real value of this booklet is the analysis. I am always impressed with the quality and impartiality of the analysis it provides.