COLUMN: If you’re voting to save democracy, it’s probably already gone

With possibly the most consequential election in American history approaching, elected officials, corporations and people push one message: vote.
Graphic by Geoffrey Dean

Sydney Lewis is a first-year journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and identity for The Maneater.

The November election is perhaps the most consequential in American history, and the cries for increased voter turnout have never been louder. While voting is treated as the most accessible form of civic engagement, it isn’t accessible to all.

Voter Suppression

Voter suppression still runs rampant in the U.S.

Gerrymandering makes electoral districts look like mazes, and both major parties are guilty of zoning districts in their favor. Gerrymandering disproportionately affects communities of color. When the congressional districts are redrawn every ten years, they should not be drawn by the politicians that benefit from them. They should be drawn in accordance with the political makeup of the state.

Felony voting rights and ID laws have also had a negative impact on those who are able to vote. The barring of felons from voting disproportionately impacts people of color. These voting rights vary by state, with some allowing people to vote from prison and some with much tighter restrictions.

Voter ID laws require voters to have a form of ID to be able to vote and are proven to lower voter turnout. Eleven percent of U.S. citizens don’t have government-issued photo IDs. This is a further assault on the working class, some of whom are unable to afford the process it takes to get a government-issued ID. This also has an impact on houseless individuals. Those without a private place of residence are eligible and have a right to vote, but the system makes it so difficult and daunting that many don’t.

States should do away with laws that require an ID to vote. A study found that out of over 1 billion votes cast, 31 were fraudulent. Requiring an ID causes problems for people without them instead of creating solutions against fraud. As the American Civil Liberties Union says, “voter ID requirements are a solution in search of a problem.”

Electoral College

Right now, one person does not equal one vote. Even if every eligible voter was able to vote, the electoral college doesn’t always accurately represent the votes of the majority of the population. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, yet lost the election. Our electoral system is broken. The electoral college aims to give states proportionate influence on the presidential election. We shouldn’t be voting as states, we should be voting as individuals.

The electoral college should be abolished. Whoever wins the popular vote should become president. To do this, Congress must pass an amendment to the Constitution.

Campaign Finance

Campaign finance laws give wealthy individuals and corporations more of a say in laws that impact public life. The Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that political contributions from corporations are protected as free speech under the first amendment.This means financial contributions from corporations and individuals are completely unregulated.

Members of Congress who take money from these corporations vote in the best interest of the corporation, not their constituents. This has led many progressive politicians to tout an “F” rating from organizations like the NRA and pledge not to accept any money from political action committees.

A study by the Roosevelt Institute found that “money influences key congressional floor votes on both finance and telecommunication issues.”

Two-party System

The two-party system is another hassle in itself. George Washington warned against partisan fighting in his farewell address in 1796. He was right. The two-party system has caused chaos for centuries. Members of the Democratic Party often call for members of third parties like the Green Party to vote Democrat in presidential elections because they take votes away from the Democrats.

Third parties pull votes from both Republicans and Democrats. In 2016, more independent voters leaned toward Trump than Clinton. In some states, people who voted for third parties pulled votes from Clinton and in others they pulled votes from Trump.

This has most recently been addressed by people saying a vote for a candidate besides Biden is a vote for Trump. Is that true? Maybe. Should that be true? Absolutely not.

For voting to be effective, a legitimate third party challenger must disrupt the two-party system. Someone like Bernie Sanders, who is an independent but goes through the political process with Democrats, is a better third party challenger than someone like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. If Sanders could convince his intense base of supporters to vote for him as a third party, it may be enough support to act as a catalyst toward a multi-party system. Becoming a multi-party system requires structural change that can keep it that way.

In our two-party system, both major parties have become catch-all parties. They appeal to a wide base of supporters by having broad stances on issues. This is why the Democratic National Committee won’t adopt the Green New Deal or Medicare for All into its party platform. Doing so has the potential to push away moderate voters who vote Democrat simply because there isn’t a better option.

When Democratic politicians simply have to be not as bad as the other party, the standards for fighting for their constituents are so much lower. They don’t have to be as progressive, as responsive or as willing to listen to their constituents. They just have to be more progressive, more responsive and more willing to listen than their Republican counterparts.

From this, we get millions of people dissatisfied with both parties and losing faith in the electoral process. Who can blame them? Not only are politicians disloyal to their constituents' needs, but the congressional process prohibits many representatives from making any lasting change.

There will be little movement toward a multi-party system unless someone from a third party poses a real threat to the two major parties. Why would either party concede their political advantage unless forced to? For the American people? If our history is any indicator, no.

Disillusioned Voters

Representative democracy is where representatives accurately reflect the views and beliefs of their constituents. That is not the nation we live in. Millions of people are disenfranchised from the voting process and even when a majority of people in the country choose one candidate, another can still win.

The system is not intended to allow everyone to vote. It’s not intended to choose what a majority of Americans want. It’s built to give certain people power and leave others without it.

Voting won’t dismantle the system that allows unarmed Black people to be murdered by police. Voting won’t guarantee that LGBTQ+ people will have job security. Voting isn’t going to enact prison reform or abolition. Voting isn’t going to solve climate change. Maybe voting will help take baby steps toward those goals, but is that enough?

And if the response to this is “what is the alternative?” What does that say about the accessibility of positive change in our country? If voting feels like the last shot at being able to make even the most minimal change, does that not sound like a system designed to make it impossible to make any change? Incremental change isn’t going to dismantle the systems of inequality our nation is founded upon.

This doesn’t mean Americans should give up on the system. I’m writing this because I haven’t given up on it. This means the system is inherently flawed and no amount of voting will fix it. Voting to fix systemic inequities has the same amount of effectiveness as going vegetarian to solve climate change. Sure, it might make those who do it feel better, but it really isn’t going to make a difference when the problem is caused by people who refuse to fix it.

This doesn’t mean don’t vote. For many, voting is worth it. Those people should go cast their ballots. For others, voting does not have a positive impact on the inequalities facing them. It’s hard to blame people for not believing in a system that was never designed to work for them.

I used to not understand the argument against voting because I wasn’t sure what the alternative was. If voting wasn’t going to make the change we need, what will?

Some recommend investing in our communities through grassroots organizations and mutual aid funds. That’s a great alternative — if the plan is to disengage from the voting process. But if all faith isn’t lost, work to fix it. Reform isn’t a guaranteed fix because the system rarely tries to fix itself. It’s hard to expect politicians who benefit from gerrymandering, voter ID laws and the electoral college benefit to abolish them.

Making these changes isn’t easy and it won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s what needs to happen for people’s votes to truly count. Until then, those who choose to disengage should not be ostracized for choosing to do so.

_As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to the Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, “a black trans and queer led organization that builds safety within our community, investing in our collective embodied leadership and building political power.” Donate at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=EPH7USQP5L9RG&source=url._

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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