The Left

Counting on Votes

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Official White House portrait | Richard Nixon, President, Watergate,

You have no direct vote on many issues

I saw a website on the importance of voting.

As always it challenged my natural bent to play devil's advocate. In this case I'm not going with the formal definition of devil's advocate----taking a position I don't agree with for the sake of argument.

I agree with my own position.

I agree that voting is vitally important. I just don't agree that it counts for as much as some people assume and as vague statements from those promoting it sometimes contend. Let's look at some of those statements.

The first saying is from William E. Simon. "Bad officials are elected by good citizens who did not vote."

I'm sorry, but I voted and Richard Nixon and George W. Bush got elected anyway. Nixon and Bush were elected by majorities of people who voted.

Thomas Jefferson said, "Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights."

Sorry Tom.

Voting couldn't prevent the Civil War, a half million people killed and the disenfranchisement of black Americans a hundred years later in the 1950's who couldn't even order a sandwich at a lunch counter. It took struggle, protest and people sometimes dying, not votes, to achieve the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It was the same with Vietnam, whose outcome was decided not by voters, but by realities beyond the ballot box.

Noah Webster said, "In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide, not the sect or denomination of the candidate." You could eliminate the entire Republican Party and a good portion of the Democrat Party over that one. For many Republicans especially Tea-baggers, sect, denomination, ideology and religion are everything-----not principle.

A saying from Cheech and Chong is, "A vote for the lesser evil (candidate) is still a vote for evil."

One time I had a selection of two evil candidates, and withheld my vote from both, which violated this saying from western fiction writer Louis L' Amour, "Someone who does not vote has no right to complain."

Believe you me I complained! You should of heard me complain.

And finally Dwight Eisenhower, "The future of the Republic is in the hands of the voters."

No Ike, it isn't, not directly, about half of it isn't.

Let's start with the Electoral College. I'm not going to take space here to dissect this interminably skewed and complicated system, but put simply, it's a way of electing the president and vice president not by a direct vote of the people, but through appointed "electors" per each individual state.

I'm not against voting. It's vitally important. But I consider myself a realist, not a cynic or naysayer. It's possible to overstate the impact your individual vote has. Let's use logic. I agree with the basic idea that the majority vote wins. It's unrealistic to expect that every opinion or belief you or I hold on every issue will be agreed to by Congress.

This column is rather about degree. How much does your individual vote really influence directly the course of events in this country?

If you live in a large state, you perhaps have six congressmen representing you, two state senators, and four in the House of Representatives. Of these six, you voted for let's say three of them. The other three were elected without your vote. They are members of another political party than yours. You voted for their opponents and lost.

The three your vote didn't elect will probably cast votes in Congress about 75 percent of the time in a way in which you disagree. Approximately 25 percent of the time they will vote in Congress in a way in which you agree. The three congressmen your vote elected do the opposite. Approximately 75 percent of the time they will vote in Congress in a way you like, 25 percent of the time in a way you don't like.

Allowing for a slight variance, according to these figures if we do the math, your vote will directly influence the future of this country (through your elected representatives) at a rate of about 45 percent of the time, or a ratio of 4.5 out of 10.

I'm not saying don't vote. Ours is the best imperfect system in the world. The founding fathers of the country decided leadership would be provided not by you (the mob), but for you on your behalf through elected representatives you elect. The founders didn't trust you, a common slob, to understand the issues. We know that much of the time you really don't. You don't have time to study the issues. You have to work a full-time job.

Unfortunately, some of our elected officials don't have time to study the issues either.

You did not have a direct vote to decide whether to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars were sold dishonestly to the American Public by the government and misrepresented as quickly-decided "preemptive strikes" that turned into decades-long protracted wars (again without your vote), with no explanation from the government to you of what it is exactly we're trying to accomplish.

The defense budget of the country makes up about 20 percent of the total budget, a rise from 9 percent in 1963. Your vote doesn't directly control any of it, but again is decided only through your elected representatives and their wisdom (or lack of it). You didn't vote on weapons systems. You didn't vote on drone bombs dropped on Yemen, in which no formal state of war has been recognized.

You don't vote on these issues.

Several years ago NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) decided to explode a rocket propelled bomb into the moon to shake loose lunar debris to see if there was any water underneath. I was not allowed to vote on it. I had no say in it. This bizarre experiment cost $79 million, money that could have been spent on roads and schools.

I thought it was obscene using a celestial body for an experimental artillery range. It reminds me there used to be a racist saying in the 1980's that I will not dignify by identifying the ethnic group it targeted. Nonetheless it said, "If they can't eat it or steal it, they paint it (graffiti)."

The slogan for the moon bombing could be, "If they can't possess it or exploit it, they bomb it."

The bombing of the moon and its impact was an unknown. It could have altered the moon's orbit and adversely effected ocean tides here on earth. It didn't thank God and that's why you've forgotten about it if you heard about it at all.

Your vote on election day does not control NASA, its goals or budget, and much else beyond.

I greatly admire Dianne Feinstein, but she voted to maintain The Patriot Act (remember how I said candidates you elect vote 25 percent of the time against your wishes). I did not have a vote to enact The Patriot Act, an unpatriotic assault on due process in which you can be imprisoned based merely on suspicion without charges, trial or an attorney, and which demonizes Arabs and Americans who practice the Moslem religion. It's based on the premise that it's a dangerous world, the usual excuse for taking rights away.

Japanese Americans who were illegally imprisoned by the government in internment camps during World War Two because of racism and paranoia almost unanimously oppose the Patriot Act. They recognize it for what it is, a similar assault on civil liberties to the one they themselves experienced.

The Patriot Act is still law.

I didn't have a chance to vote against it. I had no say in it. Neither did you.

Obviously, unlike the popular slogan "Every vote counts," not every vote does, and especially the one never made.

I'm not knocking the system.

But we should be realistic to its flaws and limitations.

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Updated May 10, 2017 9:58 AM EDT | More details

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