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Why Should I Care, Does My Vote Really Matter? - The Democratic Role of an American Citizen

Updated on June 30, 2015
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Congress sucks. The president sucks. All they do is take my taxes and give them to welfare and foreign aid. Politicians are all liars - they're corporate shills corrupted by greed and legal bribery. Why should I bother with choosing the lesser of two-evils? Why should I care? Why vote?

On social media, in the break room, in the sauna - this is what a lot of people have to say about politics. And there's relative truth in it. Given the dysfunction and negativity, it's easy for a lot of folks to become jaded with politics and politicians. Why bother?

The government can kill you.

I'm not just talking about crime and punishment, due process and jury-of-your-peers style capital punishment.

No, I'm talking about the war-without-borders, extra-judicially determine you to be an enemy-combatant, & drop-a-hellfire-missile-from-a-flying-robot style kill you.

Give or take the missile.

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It's easier that way, you see. Since you are an American citizen, you have certain rights - Miranda, presumed innocence, legal representation, judicial process, cruel & unusual punishment protection - those type things. That being the case, killing you is ...simpler. Simpler than locking you up in Guantanamo and torturing you for years on end while suspended in legal limbo.

Minimal paperwork that way, and scant media attention. Win-win.

Oh, and government decides whether you count as three-fifths of a person, and whether you are regarded as personal property. The gov't decides whether to throw you in an internment camp, and whether you can be assassinated for posing an imminent threat.

You may be thinking - I'm not a terrorist & I'm not a minority. I live comfortable enough, so why should I care about any of that?

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The government decides whether or not you deserve to vote. The government defines privacy. The government defines speech. The government defines "person," dammit!

The government decides whether the freedoms bestowed us in the Constitution hold meaning - or whether those rights are simply scribbles on an old piece of paper that would crumble to dust in mere sunlight.

And yet therein lies our salvation; that great disinfectant - sunlight.

This is not meant to be a scare-piece, and this is certainly no anti-government screed. This is a democracy, and our solutions lie there within. It's a simple matter of understanding a little bit of history and few basic nuts & bolts.

Still not convinced? Too meta?

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Roads & Bridges

You can’t build them on your own. We all drive on them, and we all buy products shipped on them.

Then there is public transportation - buses, ferries, & railways moving us about. We have highway patrol to ensure public safety on roads & sidewalks.

We have 9-1-1 to call in case of an emergency. Fire trucks to show up when our house catches on fire, and ambulances that take us to emergency rooms - required by law to help us.

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Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren | Source

Courts, jails & mental hospitals for violent criminals.

We build libraries and schools for our kids' education, and Pell grants for college. We build dams, wind farms power plants & grids for energy.

We take our kids to national & state parks - while maintaining and protecting our natural & national treasures from the Grand Canyon to Mount Rainier and Yellowstone, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty.

Plus local parks and playgrounds, swimming pools, lakes, softball fields, basketball and tennis courts.

The EPA protects the very air we breathe and water we drink. FDA approves the products we use - from steaks and eggs we eat to toothpaste and lipstick, from aspirins and condoms to lead in our babies' crib and the brakes on our cars..

We landed the first man on the moon with NASA. We invented the internet and laser surgery with R&D grants.

The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard, JSOC, FBI, CIA, SSI, SNAP, HUD, SEC, CPB, Medicare, Medicaid...

Mortgage, business, and student loan rates? That's gov't.

Taxes & fees? Sales tax is on everything. Gov't in is our electric bill, cell phone bill, cable bill, power bill, firearms (FAET), alcohol & tobacco (sin tax). We pay for the privilege to drive, auto licensing, fishing, hunting, adoption, marriage license, building permits, tolls...

We need a business license, and proof of citizenship - just to go to work and make a living.

Government is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe and death itself. In fact, they regulate the air, and it's damned expensive to die.

Since I'm not going anywhere - and I'll assume that if you are still reading this then you are staying put as well - we'll have to find a way to work together to make this whole self-governance thing work for us, and not against us.

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Ad Nauseam

The problem with politics of course, is the politicians.

Unless you are a political junkie, then about all you know about these politicians is what you see on bumper stickers, facebook shares, and 30-second attack ads.

Those ads. You know the ones:

"My opponent is evil because he voted this way or said that & freedom will die if you elect my opponent. Vote for me since I’m great. My name is such and such, and I approve this message.” The End.

They spend billions of dollars on these 30-second hack-jobs, and all the public sees is a bunch of muck-raking bottom-feeders.

Follow the Money

As with all else, it boils down to the money.

Ninety percent of elections are won by the candidate with the biggest campaign war-chest. Veritable elections at auction. The average Senate seat costs a mere $10m - and over $1.6m for a House seat. So where do those billions come from (before being shoveled off to media conglomerates for ad-buys)?

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Why, legal bribery, of course! The only limit is a given candidates' individual inability to cash in. Thus, members of Congress now spend 40% of their time working the phones for cash, as encouraged by their respective party leaders.

Imagine you are sent to Washington - you are then coerced into spend nearly half your time begging special interest groups and know-it-all millionaires for no-strings-attached handouts - and much of the rest of your time dealing with co-workers who collectively struggle to maintain 15% approval ratings. Poor babies...

So why do it?

The Infamous K Street in D.C., natural habitat of the lobbyist.
The Infamous K Street in D.C., natural habitat of the lobbyist. | Source

Government Sachs

Political office now serves as an entry-level job. From 1998-2012, 79% of the 352 congress people who left office have been employed as a lobbyist - peddling influence. Many more opt for think tanks and social welfare groups.

Congresspeople author legislation and serve on committees with authority over a given industry - with the knowledge that they have a job waiting for them in that very industry, regulators too. This is known as the revolving door.

Not only that, but they use knowledge gleaned from closed-door congressional hearings and reports, to build their portfolios.

The average net worth of a US Senator in the 113th Congress is up to just over $2.5 million - and over $850k for House members.

As with many of problems, the solutions to these seem to be screaming out. So why haven't we fixed them yet?

By Chuck Kennedy (Executive Office of the President of the United States) (http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Chuck Kennedy (Executive Office of the President of the United States) (http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) | Source
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) | Source

Sausage Making

Imagine you woke up one day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Consider this, there are 535 folks down the block who get a say in this thing too.

The House requires whipping up agreement amongst more than 200 duly elected representatives with biennial elections and their own political motivations - just to keep the lights on. Herding stray cats, as it were.

One hundred senators in the upper chamber, two per state, six-year terms.

The problem? Suddenly, the basic democratic principle that majority rules has been tossed out with the trash.

The founding fathers set very specific vote-requirements for respective aspects of governing - but today's senate eschews the Constitution (and often the American people) by instead requiring a new filibuster-proof 60% majority.

While the filibuster was invented in 1837 - it was never invoked more than ten times by a given Congress until 1979-80, and never more than 60 times until the 2000's. However, since 2007-08, 130+ filibusters is suddenly the new norm. The same is true of cloture motions.

And not the old-school Jimmy Stewart, stand-your-ground and plead-your-case style filibuster either - the neo-filibuster is sent in a midnight e-mail, and prevents even simple debate from occurring on the Senate floor.

Filibuster reform itself is strangely exempt from the 60-vote threshold and can be realized with a simple majority-vote every two years - and in theory at any time granted the nuclear option.

So what's the holdup? They're too scurred.

Why does it matter? Since the 101st Congress that began in 1979, there has been a steady decline in the number of bills signed into law. And so it came to pass that our 112th Congress shattered the statistical record for congressional ineptitude.

Granted numbers don't tell the whole story, as not every bill is as profound as the Civil Rights Act, and many are ceremonial namings of post offices - but I believe the approval ratings tell the gist of the story where Congress is concerned.

Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Stewart Goes to Washington
Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Stewart Goes to Washington | Source

Primaried Gerrymanders

Today class, we meet a new verb - it is know as being... primaried.

1812 Boston Gazzette political cartoon of Gov. Gerry's gerrymandered senate district
1812 Boston Gazzette political cartoon of Gov. Gerry's gerrymandered senate district | Source

Congressional lines are bipartisanly gerrymandered in an manner which corrals like-minded voters with similar voting patterns into "safe" districts for the incumbent majority-party. This rejiggering of haphazardly shapen safe districts is done every ten years with updated census numbers.

In these safe districts, the only fear of the incumbent is that of being outflanked within party ranks by someone more extreme in a future primary election - hence the term primaried. The result of this has both parties snarling at each other across exceedingly distant party-lines with exceedingly ideological representatives.

While only between 3-5% of voters actually vote for both parties, fewer & fewer people self-identify with either major party. Between the muck-raking and the corruption, the vast public disapproval and hair-pulling ineptitude - why would any sane person voluntarily submit themselves to labels associated with these bunch of cads?

Mostly because party structure provides access to funding, which is prerequisite. But why would average citizens? Because giving up is not an valid option - and again our solution is quite simple. We have technology perfectly capable of drawing more fair voting districts - and thus removing the (bi)partisan gerrymandering, which help drive partisanship, from the equation of fair and free elections in America.

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Cash for Votes?

On the topic of fair elections; while in-person voter fraud is nearly non-existent (roughly .0004%) there has recently been massive attacks on voter rights. Voter-suppression tactics go straight at heart of democracy. It is no longer self-governance it you are not allowed to participate. Taxation without representation.

Simple fix: opt-out voter-registration. Many valid options - we have a social security number, we could also have a separate personal voter-ID number. Better yet, we could attach voter registration to driver's licensing and (free) state IDs - or to registration for the draft when we turn 18.

Compulsory voting would be ideal - we could give a $50 tax credit for voting. The more people taking ownership of government the better - no matter their political leanings.

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Champagne Problems

Money. Rules. Politics.

This thanks to astonishing judicial mishaps, including but not limited to - Citizens United v FEC (2010), Buckley v Valeo (1976), Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v Pennsylvania (1888) & Dartmouth College v Woodward (1812).

Long story short; corporations are people, and money is speech. Since free speech shall not be infringed, corporations are free to lavish politicians with piles of legal bribery to their heart's content.

And with Dodge v Ford Motor Company (1916), fiduciary responsibility instructs corporations to abide only by the rule of profit, with no regard for community or greater good.

SCOTUS
SCOTUS | Source
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Hence 501(c)3 non-profits, and 501(c)4 social welfare organizations. These sometimes shadowy groups bundle and shift around dark money from behind closed doors - sometimes with shadowy intent. They run propaganda laden attack ads just before an election, funded with multinational corporate profits, and cartel & terrorist groups' drug money - no disclosure of where the money came from and thus no accountability for the lies they may be telling the public on election's eve.

The Federal Election Campaign Act (1971) prohibited donations from foreign nationals, banks, government contractors, corporations, and unions. It also required that candidates disclose the sources of political contributions, and their total campaign expenditure, to the Federal Election Commission. Unfortunately, big-moneyed interests immediately began tearing down these achievements, and show no sign of mercy.

We need constitutional amendments to put and end to corporate personhood and money as speech. Publicly funded elections would also solve this problem.

Money rules politics, but money rules everything, so this is no big surprise. That serving as our backdrop...

Dred Scott
Dred Scott | Source
Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964 with Martin Luther King, Jr., among others looking on.
Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964 with Martin Luther King, Jr., among others looking on. | Source

Virginia is for Lovings

For all that is broken today, we've seen far worse in the past.

In 1787, the US Constitution counted certain "other persons" (as opposed to free persons) as only 3/5ths. In the 1857 Dred Scot case, and then with Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the US Supreme Court upheld slavery & segregation (ahem) respectively as being perfectly valid in this, a supposedly free country. Then in 1944 the SCOTUS ruled in favor of Japanese internment camps in Korematsu v. US.

Legal second-class citizens.

Since then, SCOTUS wisely ruled on Brown v. Board & Loving v. Virginia - to strike down "separate but equal", and to protect interracial marriage rights.

Thanks to Article V, a constitutional convention can be called by 34 states, and specific amendments passed with 38-state ratification. Without congress, POTUS, or SCOTUS.

With the 13th Amendment (1865), 19th Amendment (1920), and the Civil Rights Act (1964) - we've righted some of our more egregious wrongs.

This should serve as perspective when we encounter future obstacles to progress. How crazy is it that women got the right to vote, when they couldn't even vote on it themselves!?!

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Living Document

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was also a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. So while political parties may come and go, morph and evolve; our rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness have remained.

This is why we vote, because our legislators have the charge of keeping our Constitution.

Our Constitutional rights are not just words on a piece of paper. Not just words. But a demand - for a more perfect union.

Sure, roughly 80% of world countries are democracies - but this is America dammit! We're exceptional - baseball, apple-pie, amber waves of grain, red, white & blue! USofA! If we plan on remaining kings of the proverbial hill, it's gonna take some work - and the first step is getting off of your butt and opening your eyes.

Our founding fathers entrusted us with great freedoms. We have the right to criticize and to organize, to ensure that our collective concerns and grievances are heard and recognized. We have the ability and the charge - to make change happen. And with those freedoms come responsibility.

Whether your fight is over corporate person-hood or deregulation, religious freedom or equal rights. Free speech or campaign finance, imperialism or nanny state. Pro-choice or pro-life, Voter ID or immigration. Deficit spending or welfare state, Halliburton & Lockheed Martin or habeas corpus. Or campaign finance or 2nd Amendment rights or drones.

I can't tell you how to think. I'm not smart enough to know all of the answers. I don't know what your priorities are and how they weigh on your political views when you vote. But I do know that the more people who pay attention, the more regular people the politicians are responsible to.

So my message is to vote. For whomever you please, just do it. Because the debates are happening all of the time, on our behalf. The wheels of government are always turning, whether we bother to pay attention or not decisions are being made. And I don't trust them enough to do it without the rest of us.

To me? I was blessed to be born here, with great freedoms. But as an American citizen, it is also my responsibility to keep these elected officials in line. They must be analyzed, they must be scrutinized … they must useful! And if they are ineffective? They must be poked, they must be prodded, they must be provoked. Most importantly, they must be motivated. And the way I. Me. Justin Earick. The way I personally motivate my representatives? With my vote. I’m the boss. I’m HR. I decide who deserves to represent me in government. With my vote, and with my voice.

7/31/12

Does my vote matter?

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    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 21 months ago from Florida

      You covered a lot of territory in one HUB, you could break this into its components and make it several hubs, expanding on some of the issues when doing so... just a suggestion.

    • The Old Guard profile image

      John Wilson 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Nope, both sides are ruining the country - maybe in different ways, but it's at the cost of our freedoms.

      Only way to resolve this is civil disobedience - not voting is a start.

      Why support the puppets that are put out by the ruling politburo?

      It just gives them the idea that we really think we haver some sort of voice.

      Time to stand up and stop doing whatever you can to show that you don't buy into the propaganda.

      Don't pledge allegiance - don't even stand up.

      Don't sing "patriotic" songs that have lost there meanings.

      Don't show up for rally's of pawns of the power brokers.

      You want a socialist country, well, it ain't going to happen in the states.

      We'll have a fascist country, worse than what it is now, run by the oligarchs and we'll be better serfs than what we are now.

      Look at Greece, because that's what's going to be knocking on the doors of the average american as the politicians and the power brokers have their ways with the country.

      America's doomed to more mediocrity than you or I can imagine.

    • Justin Earick profile image
      Author

      Justin Earick 2 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      The parties are very different. Whether on LGBTQ rights, women's rights, civil rights, labor, infrastructure investment, social insurance programs such as SSI, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, UI... the sides are very different.

      What frustrates us is where the sides agree - such as TPP/TTIP, Ex-Im bank, corporate welfare such as corn/soy/oil subsidies, insider trading, lobbyist/special interest influence, bailing out the banks with no accountability while homes were foreclosed... They agree when it comes to screwing over the general public on behalf of their donors. This is because of the system they operate under, in which money = speech and multinational corporations are allowed to spend unlimited and hidden funds to candidates who win 95% of the time if they have more campaign cash.

      We can all agree on this. Where we might disagree is what to do with this information. One option is to take the power away from gov't, and hand it over to corporate interests. Who happen to be the ones doing the corrupting, btw. This would do nothing more than remove the cost of bribing, at best. Or - the people take charge by showing up when it's time to vote, and by calling/writing your representatives and letting them know what you want as a voting citizen who communicates with other voters, and showing up at their office when they fail to represent their constituents.

      If you don't vote, and you don't show up, then you remove what little incentive remains for politicians to care what you think, no matter your opinions.

    • The Old Guard profile image

      John Wilson 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      The republitards are to blame? LOL

      Ever hear about how Kennedy got elected when Illinois resurrected the dead to vote for him?

      I believe he was a demoncrap.

      Both parties are out to destroy america, take away our freedoms and bring us to the same level as a banana republic.

      Anyone who thinks one party is better than the other has eyes that don't see.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      Justin, I had to come back to re-read this so that it stays fresh in my mind.

      From David Podvin's 8/10/2003 -- The Media Cover-up of the Gore Victory This man said in one paragraph why I am researching politics:

      He said "We are looking forward to further erosion of our civil liberties, endless war, and depression, unless the Republicans are soundly defeated. They can only be soundly defeated if we have election reform (among other things). We can only have reform if we fully understand and acknowledge what happened in the last election. When the man who was elected president is not the man in the White House, something is seriously wrong. This is still true to this day.

      Thumbs Up, Useful, Awesome, Interesting and shared

    • The Old Guard profile image

      John Wilson 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Justin Earick,

      You kind of sum it up rather well, me thinks.

      Voting only convinces those that pull the puppet strings of our politicians that the con is still working.

      Know how to tell when a politicians is lying?

      His lips are moving!

      I've watched politics for over 40 years, and would not trust one of them with a pack of matches in an igloo. They'd figure out how to burn it down and say that it was going to be good for the economy!

      Keep at it, dude!

      Write another awesome hub!

      Cheers

    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 2 years ago

      Great Hub! Complaining alone gets a person no where. There must be some action behind it. Just like Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, we have a great rights and responsibility given to us by God.

      "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights"

      I try to be politically active and have rarely missed a vote. Voted up!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You make great points with style and wit. People must remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." (A statement attributed to Thomas Jefferson.) Be an informed voter and don't get your information from commercials and political mailers.

    • profile image

      Slfralic2@aol.com 2 years ago

      Thank you for writing what I have just read.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      I am reminded of the great corporate concern over an upstart politician who dared to campaign based on $100 campaign donations. Why? Because enough of "those donors" could offset the big donors. For a moment there was democracy in action. A better candidate could have pulled it off. There is still hope that that day will come. For now, be reminded that the maximum donation for some of those big donors was just raised to about $750,000, and take heart to realize that such a big sum can easily be matched by a small town's 7,500 citizens each donating the $100.

      There is a coming Constitutional Convention, but it isn't even on the horizon yet, though its rushing winds can be seen coming in the public dissatisfaction with such things as those mentioned in this Hub.

      Thanks for being an honest voice crying in the wilderness of voter apathy.

    • Justin Earick profile image
      Author

      Justin Earick 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      I appreciate that very much, Shyron. Maybe I'll finish writing a few things I have laying around.

      And looking back - Article V takes 34 states to call a convention without congress, but 38 to ratify a new amendment...

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Justin, this is a fantastic hub, my friend Au fait said I would like what you write and she was right.

      Thumbs Up, Useful, Awesome, Interesting and shared

      If you do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on you.

    • Justin Earick profile image
      Author

      Justin Earick 4 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      Thank you, much appreciated.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Justin...This is a phenomenal hub and worthy of space in a textbook!

      Voted Up, Useful, Awesome, Interesting and shared

      Jaye

    • Justin Earick profile image
      Author

      Justin Earick 4 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      No, "the government" does not choose who is in office.

      Corporate donors and activist billionaires determine whom is in office when voter-complacency sets in.

      That is why corporate person-hood and money as speech set such dangerous precedences. We no longer live in a country of one-person, one-vote. The oligarchs are not content with running the economy, they want to run the government as well.

      90%-95% of elections are won by the candidate with the most campaign funds.

      We have to stand up for ourselves and take responsibility for the fate of our country.

    • profile image

      Anna 5 years ago

      But do the votes matter. Does government choise which candidate they want in office and just allow us to think we voted them in? Corrupt is the point here. Is boting then a waste of time. No choice at all.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 5 years ago from usa

      Justin Earick

      That's why we have corruption in our government. People like you and many others feel the same way. H.Schneider is giving you good advise.Don't allow the radicals and illegals to decide for you as to who will represent your vote in government. Make your vote count, go to the polls and vote, it's a priviledge that many people in other countries don't have.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Well stated, Justin. The system is a mess and corrupt with money. But if one does not get involved at least by voting if not more, than one cannot really complain. Get involved.