I vote in most elections that I get the chance to, though I am not completely unsympathetic to the argument that electioneering is not a particularly effective way of promoting meaningful change, and that it does often feel like the act of voting is an merely an endorsement of the existing system and all its problematic aspects. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the argument that since the current system does exists and its overlords are selected through voting, one might as well practice defensive voting and choose the lesser of the multiple evils who will be appearing on the ballot. After all, some candidates are genuinely better than others on at least some issues and some really are evil bastards who should be kept out of power when possible.
This is not to say that I think one’s individual vote is likely to sway an election. It is highly unlikely, comparable to winning the lottery or being struck by lightening. Even worse, if one’s vote were able to sway an election it would hardly matter as the entire political system is dominated by a two establishment parties that are mostly the same. The illusion of choice is just that: an illusion. We are still going to see the same crony-corporatism, the same war-mongering and spying on violations of the privacy and civil liberties of US citizens regardless of which of the two big parties are in power. In practice most representatives receive the active consent of fewer than a fourth of the people they claim to represent. While the existence of some form of consent of the governed may be a step above outright dictatorship, one should not fall into the trap of thinking the average person has much influence on who makes the real decisions in this country. This is especially true when one considers the fact that to even get on the ballot one generally has to raise a great deal of money from economic elites and win the approval of party insiders, whose desires are quite different from the general population.
It should be pointed out that while all I said above is true at all levels of government, it is less the case in smaller and more local elections than it is in bigger more nationwide ones. As local and state votes are likely to be the one spot where one hopes any hopes of swaying an election can be realized. So what strategies do those of us, with generally anti-establishment sentiments choose to adopt?
My strategy is generally this:
1. In close elections vote for the lesser evil. If one lives in a swing state or swing district, go for the candidate who will screw you over the least.
2. If one lives in a state or district where the one party is very likely to dominate it why not go third party. In many elections a third party candidate (such as a Green Party or Libertarian Party Candidate or even the occasional Ralph Nader) will be closer to the preferences of many voters than the candidates from the two major parties. One should look into this. Voting for them does show distaste for the two-party monopoly and it could help give the third party more attention and more influence in the debate. Even if the third party candidate in a particular election is sub-par, voting for him or her still expresses satisfaction with the two big parties.
3. Vote out incumbents. If one is not able to find information on a given candidate, or does not find the any of the options particularly satisfying, why not vote against the incumbent. After all keeping a continuous flow of people in and out office undermines their job security, and keeps our officials from becoming too established or set in their ways.
4. Write someone in. Even if you think someone could do better, write them in, or organize a write in campaign.
5. Complain. Make it known your dissatisfaction with the American political process and the the lousy, dishonest cronyism politicians it produces. Whether you vote or don’t vote you have every right and reason to complain and make your feelings in known. Never forget this.
6. Seek alternatives and become active. When you can feel free to engage in protests and boycotts, letter writing and phone and email campaigns. Openly question laws that you find unjust, and when on a jury, vote not guilty when the defendant is charged with breaking an unjust law. When possible avoid working for or buying services from companies that are in bed with the worst parts of the current system (such as companies that are military or drug war contractors ect).
So go vote or don’t but by all means stay vocal and visible.