If you go to the polling place in Woodford County, Illinois, on Election Day, you might notice that it’s a steady stream but not a flood of people. It’s not a large county; in fact, the county seat of Eureka is best known for being the place where Ronald Reagan went to college. We’re not an area that is going to make or break an election unless it’s a really close one between a couple of local politicians, but at least the people who actually care about the way an election turns out is going to go vote. It’s about people exercising their right to vote for a representative government.
Is a representative government better than a direct democracy in which each person gets one vote on each little issue that comes up? Well, imagine that each resident of Woodford County were to gather in Eureka’s courthouse, possibly the only place in the entire county big enough to hold everybody if you were to turn it into an auditorium, every Saturday to vote on issues like repaving that stretch of Route 116 that has become a little too rough for comfortable driving. You have to sit through a long, boring meeting and you probably just wish you could pick a few people to handle it. That’s the whole point behind voting for representatives in the first place. It’s a kind of middle ground between direct voting and a dictatorship and you hope that your representatives would be smart enough to listen to what voters want.
Representative government does have its downsides. American politicians get accused of becoming part of the culture at Capitol Hill, where representatives listen to the ones who have the most money, the best lobbyists, and can shout the loudest. The fact that it’s a two-party system, mostly just Democrats and Republicans, doesn’t help when all they do is defend their corners. It would be interesting to send several Libertarians to Washington, D.C., in November just to see what happens.
As the Australians have figured out, the right to vote doesn’t mean much if you don’t use it. Because voting is a requirement enforceable by fines if you can’t come up with a legitimate excuse why you didn’t, they have a pretty good turnout every election year — more than 95% if I remember correctly. Maybe American politicians would listen more if we could get that kind of turnout because that’s the closest you’re going to get to direct voting until somebody invents a system that makes such a thing efficient enough to encourage participation from ordinary people in a populous country like Australia and the U.S.
In some nations, they might have a guy who says he’s a president, but the people don’t remember being in anything resembling a voting booth lately. Even when they have, terror and intimidation are factors. The Taliban are still around and would be very happy to derail the democratic process by keeping the same groups of people they used to oppress away from the voting booth. Presidential candidates could become targets for assassins in many places. The problem with this kind of thing is that it causes potential voters to stay home and that means the terrorists win. A bill of rights on a piece of paper doesn’t mean you’re in the safe zone. Your right to vote doesn’t mean much if you get bullied into not using it.
It also doesn’t mean much if you voluntarily stay away from the polling place because you think it’s a waste of time. You know the ones who vote in the primaries? Those are the ones who are deciding who your choices are going to be in November. Which means that the primaries are as important as the general election and the people who vote in the primaries sure aren’t wasting their time. You could get a complete upset that discombobulates the mainstream media and the Capitol Hill establishment if you can carpool with a group of friends to the polling place before going to work.
So it doesn’t make much sense to stay away from the pools when voting theoretically only takes a few minutes. Go as part of a group if you think somebody’s going to be standing at the door to intimidate you into voting a certain way. Like most bullies, they’ll either run crying to their bigger, stronger daddies or decide it’s not worth it if you give them a few black eyes. That’ll give you time to cast your votes, at least.
If you live in a dictatorship where you don’t have the right to vote, getting out of there does have some merits. Even a dictator won’t have much of a leg to stand on without support from the common people. That may be the main reason that they discourage people from emigrating, but that’s a whole other blog entry. But if you can get yourself and your family into a country with more freedoms, it can be worth it.
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