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.