Is voting a waste of time?

Is Voting a Waste of Time?

Opinion by Tyler

With another election only a few days away, we are again faced with choices we are asked to vote on. But, is voting a waste of time?  With some saying “the system is rigged”, and others saying “your vote doesn’t count”, it isn’t any wonder barely half of eligible voters bother to cast ballots. With our highly polarizing process that reduces election campaigns to crafted sound bites that try to appeal to the widest population while mostly trying to avoid taking any specific positions, or highly divisive rhetoric aimed at specific constituencies, many don’t see the point of making the effort.

     Many who don’t vote say they believe the politicians are corrupt. The system is corrupt. That politicians are “paid off”, and point to any number of examples. I have a different perspective.

    I have been attending local governmental meetings for more than 35 years, in different communities around North America. City Councils, Planning Commissions, Harbor Authorities, County Commissions, Scoping meetings, Public consultations, Visioning meetings, and too many more to list.  I’ve attended candidate forums, and feedback sessions. And in most of those hundreds of meetings, I was the only “public” in the audience.

     In most cases, the meeting staff and politicians would come over to me during breaks, asking with obvious curiosity “Why are you here?” That is was so unusual to see members of the public who did not have an issue (such as a permit application) on the agenda.

     Because of the nature of government, regulations and the permit processes, those with dominantly economic interests that affect them personally tend to both attend public meetings, and run for elected office. Unfortunately, those that don’t have a financial interest rarely attend. Only when an issue is of personal concern, do most of the general public bother to attend.

   So, who do those we vote for, hear from the most?  The role of government is to administer and manage things needed for the ongoing operations of community. Most of the time, staff and politicians are interacting with representatives of those with development projects. Some are housing developments, some are consultants and contractors.  Government makes its’ decisions based upon what it hears, and most of the time, throughout the processes, the public does not get involved.  Lobbyists and special interest groups get what they want, using the legal systems of “public input”, because the decision makers only hear from them… the “public” does not show up. (People do speak up for controversial issues, but that is not the majority of public meetings and governance.)

   Is it “corrupt” that politicians reflect the input they receive the most? Is “the system rigged”, because few, other than those with a vested interest, participate in it?

    The reality is that most people find ANYTHING more important to spend their waking hours with, than participating in governance. Movies, sports, sitting in front of the TV, and playing video games. More people attend a local high school football game, than ever show up for local government meetings.

   Most everyone has a negative opinion about politicians, even though they have little, if any personal experiences to base their opinions on. People say that the general public cannot compete with the huge sums of money spent by corporations to promote their interests. However, the general public does have huge sums of money, far more than the corporations. They just have other priorities.

     Last year, Americans spent nearly $7 billion on Halloween. $350 million on costumes for their pets.

     Unlike corporations and special interest groups that have a unified goal, the general public rarely unifies in its’ political efforts. People like to complain, but don’t often join with others to actually address the issues.

     Without ongoing involvement after the election, the public will continue to be disappointed. Casting a vote every couple of years is not enough. The elected representatives need frequent contact from their supporters. The elected representatives need frequent support from their constituents, especially when they are acting on controversial issues. Too often, a representative elected on a “change” platform is left to fight by themselves, and rarely succeed.

    Unless the public is willing to continue to be involved in governance after the election is over, simply voting is largely a waste of time.    




  1. Doc Robinson

    This is a fine article, as far as it goes. Around this time in every election cycle we see a version of this, in many media outlets. I wonder if we can’t go further, while also admitting to not quite knowing how.

    The problem is, these articles are like the old anti-drug campaign – “Just Say No.” We all dream of simple answers. Just as we dream this reminder will send people to participate in participatory democracy. It may, for a few, for a short while, but it does not hold.

    So maybe it is time to think like an economist. How do we incentivize more participation from people without a financial stake, and how do we dis-incentivize participation from those with one?

    I am not sure what those answers look like. I am confidant we would be better off if we did.

    1. Tyler

      Hi Doc,

      Thanks, and..

      Of course, as I mention, I’ve spent MANY hours in governance meetings. I know how easy “influence” really is. In many cases, it just requires showing up! Been there, done that, seen it.

      I think the near constant stories and discussions about “Big Money” running everything is one of the greatest disincentives the public receives. Why bother trying? The other result is it provides a viable excuse for those who are lazy when it comes to their civic responsibilities.

      Also, that phrase “Lead by example” is accurate. “Nothing breeds success like success”. “Everyone wants to be on the winning team”.

      As has been said many times, such-and-such business would be out of business within a week, if everyone stopped patronizing it. The people do, and have always held the power.

      Look to other countries for current examples. A few weeks ago, a European government raised the VAT (value added tax). Furious people closed their shops, took to the streets, and told the government nothing was going to continue until the tax was repealed. Within a day or so, the tax was repealed, and everything went back to normal.

      Why not in America? What is the same, and what is different?

  2. Rik Reynolds

    Representative government is an anachronism dating back to horse & buggy days when it was impossible, or at least highly inconvenient, to determine the will of the majority, as it necessitated gathering all those whose votes counted in one room. With off-the-shelf technology we can vote, en masse, from home or any telephone.

    The corporate masters fear and hate democracy, however, and representatives that love power and depend on those plutocrats who fund their campaigns at loath to surrender that power. In many cases they are megalomaniacs who truly believe they know better than the majority, so prospects for establishing true democracy are dim, yet that is the only thing that will show people that their votes do matter.

    The evidence is clear and ample that power corrupts, that even the best of people will recognize that they need the financial support of special interests to gain and maintain power, and if they are to do any good at all (if indeed they are so motivated) then they have to play along, and perform the favors implicitly implied.

    Modern computerized voting machines with their patented and secret coding can reportedly be hacked with $15 worth of electronics, and widespread discrepancies between exit polls and the computer’s tallies suggests we need representatives not to make the decisions for us but to watchdog the systems, to ensure honest recording of the majority’s will.

    At present, however, the majority or near to it recognizes that their vote means nothing — that even if the candidate they prefer, or don’t want less, is elected there’s no guarantee they’ll keep their promises, e.g. “Hope & Change” Obama.

    Jefferson was right that the best repository of the power of free nation is with the people and if we deem the people too ignorant to make the decisions then the solution lies not in taking the power from them but in educating them, another function for our elected representatives. So we still need them, but we no longer need to surrender our power to them. They can still propose but we can dispose.

    1. Tyler

      Hi Rik,

      You say: “So we still need them, but we no longer need to surrender our power to them. They can still propose but we can dispose.” Absolutely! Right on target.

      And I would go further to add that elected representatives may well propose, but mostly, they are there to facilitate what their constituents want.The problem is that far too many of “us” let them get away with inappropriate behavior. So many that, in fact, they get returned to office.

      Doc says it right, too, with his comments about education. Years ago, “Civics” was a class taught in schools. It should be, again. We must be free to make our own choices, but we also need to be educated about social responsibilities. Our schools should include lessons on how day to day governance actually works, and on our responsibilities to the communities we live in. Our cultural mindset and identity should include taking responsibility, not taking advantage of others.

  3. Kathryn

    I agree with most of the article. The people that take the time to show up have the most influence. I just had the experience of being asked why I was at a meeting because no one recognized me and thought only persons with a personal interest would be at any meeting.
    But, I do not agree that voting is a waste of time. Voting is not a waste of time. If it were, then Sheila Miller and Jim McEntire would still be in office.


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