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All Over But the Voting

2008.November.1

Early voting has ended here in Texas. I cast my ballot Friday morning on a flat digital tablet resembling an oversized Game Boy. I have reservations about electronic voting, but as I will be working the polls all day Tuesday, it was an absolute necessity.

For the curious, I voted on 17 races. Here was the breakdown:

  • 10 Democrats
  • 5 Libertarians
  • 2 Republicans

I do not vote in uncontested “races”, because they are undemocratic. Why put them on the ballot at all? If you include them, at least allow a referendum on the incumbent. It is another consequence of the pendulum swing of partisan politics – when the pendulum swings far to one side, the other side just stops bothering to show up until the party in power screws up and reap the electoral rewards. How is that a healthy discourse on the direction of our republic?

More importantly, I did not vote straight ticket. It wasn’t just a matter of supporting good candidates regardless of their party affiliations (which I did) or encouraging third party candidates wherever it seemed reasonable (and in Texas, sometimes Dems are the third party)… it is foremost to me a move that conveys accountability to those powers that would woo my vote. Ideologically, yeah, I have a lot in common with the Democrats. Or, I should say, they support my values more often. But a political party is an apparatus of communal convenience, and convenience is the modern enemy of freedom. As a party shifts (and all objects in motion stay in motion), I will find that some positions shift away from my own values, and other positions hold little water once in office. As its leaders attain and maintain success, the party grows lazy, corrupt, and/or desensitized, and the pendulum will inevitably have to swing back the other way. Think of it as a market correction for our political development. Just as with the stock market, a volatile political scene should be considered undesirable, even when you are the one who (temporarily) profits – because extremes are another correction waiting to happen. True progress comes from slow and steady growth.

Voters who opt for straight-ticket voting (especially those who do so consistently, and not as part of a specific statement on a party’s platform) are falling in line without asking questions, without hearing all options, and without asking themselves tough questions. Not only do you take the party’s worthiness (and dare I say infallibility) for granted, but you invite that party to take YOU for granted. If you let yourself be permanently defined by one label or one issue, you are opening the door for a party to undermine every other value you might otherwise have and your power loses much weight.

Parties never waste time vying for the support of its staunchest straight-ticket voters (well, almost never). Often, when a party realizes that its sheep are beginning to stray, they will bring forth a wedge issue to corral the base for another four years. But eventually real issues come to the fore and the pendulum swings once again. Freed from their haze of ignorance, voters will look back and say, “Wow, how did we let that last bunch in? Let’s stick with these other guys instead!” and forge a new generation of blind attachment.

Straight tickets also run the risk of promoting candidates who are not actually qualified for their offices. Let’s face it, somewhere in every town or state, there is some nut who runs for some office every two years, just to build up some name recognition and catch a partisan wave down the line. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are any more guilty than the other. Swinging back is necessary for balance after a period of extreme partisanship (such as the last eight years), but no reasonable Democrat can guarantee you on November 5th that each victorious candidate with a D by his or her name was the best qualified. Someone will ride the coattails and be in the right place at the right time with the right letter on the ballot.

If you didn’t early vote, do some research. Visit your local county’s election office (most have great websites) and get a good look at your sample ballot. Google each name and read the media recommendations (watching for slant – most newspapers are sadly just as guilty of partisan opinions as the rest of us) and write down the names of each candidate you support. And you know what? Even if you decide that each Democrat, or every Republican, or every Christian-Green-Anarcho-Libertarian is truly your candidate and warrants your vote, check them off individually. Because the parties track every tick on the ballot, and while they will not know how you as an individual voted, they will know how many ballots took the shortcut and how many took the long way. They must know the limits of their own power in your precinct, because every American citizen deserves to have candidates fight for your vote. Every time.

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