If you’re anything like me, you’re disheartened with the condition of our democracy (republic). The election of Donald Trump was a catalyst for my realization about the state of our political system, but the attempts to erode democracy in the United States are nothing new. Over time, we have come to see the state of our political system as normal, and even accepted the compromised state of our democracy as just “the way things work.” While the government established by the Constitution was innovative and disruptive for its time and has served us well, any such document is only as powerful as the leaders who are sworn to enforce it allow it to be. Checks and balances certainly help hold the individual branches of government accountable, but they are weak against the prolonged, concerted effort to unite the three branches. Throughout history, it seems that a government left unchecked will tend toward the consolidation of power, and the United States is not immune to that phenomenon. I realize that my assessment is bleak and perhaps far-fetched, but I think we can at least all agree that many of our politicians are acting in bad faith against the principles our country is supposed to stand for.
The most egregious of these actions are those which directly attempt to manipulate elections. Since voting is the main way the people have control over the government, any action that interferes with the integrity of the process should be seen as treasonous (not to mention the ethical and moral considerations). The most blatant violation is the direct alteration of votes, either by changing vote counts or the coercion of voters or election workers. Another manipulation is willfully misinforming or misleading voters. I have read anecdotes of campaign materials with blatant lies, either about the issue/candidate or voting procedures, and campaigns mailing their own information disguised as official publications. Voter suppression is another practice, through unreasonable registration or identification, auditing registrations and removing voters on technicalities, and physical barriers to easily using polling places. These suppressive tactics are tailored towards disqualifying voters who are likely to vote against the election officials’ interests. Last but not least is gerrymandering, the practice of creating Congressional districts such that the majority of the constituents will favor one party instead of based on geography. All of these tactics undermine our democratic process and would not be used by anyone who truly stands for it.
However, to me the biggest issue is the two-party system. Democracy is about choice, and with only two real options it’s unlikely to find a candidate who represents our values. It also gives special interest groups and businesses more control since they can spend all of their efforts and money on supporting just one candidate. Since third-party candidates are rarely elected and people are so afraid of the other side winning an election, they have no choice but to vote for “the lesser of two evils” so their voice will be heard. This fear is a form of coercion like I mentioned above, but not as direct. It’s difficult to combat this in our current system, unless everyone simultaneously decides to seriously consider third-party and independent candidates. Other democracies like ours have managed to do this, but reversing an already established two-party system is kind of a catch 22. People will not feel comfortable voting for third-party candidates until they see them winning, but they can’t win until people vote for them.
The solution that I strongly believe in, instant-runoff voting, would require major amendments to the Constitution. In this system, votes mark their first, second, and third choice candidate, and potentially more. When votes are counted, if no candidate gets a majority vote, the candidate with the least number of first choice votes is eliminated, and anyone who voted for that candidate will have their vote is automatically changed to their next choice. The process repeats until one of the candidates has over 50% of the vote, and that candidate is elected. This is a little complicated compared to normal voting, but it gives voters many more viable candidates because their vote cannot be “wasted.” A voter can list backup choices, so that if their preferred candidate doesn’t win, they still have a voice. Without the risk of potential disenfranchisement, the people can elect who they really want.
There are many other problems with our political system and possible solutions, but I’ll save those for another time. The fact is that without a major reform of the government, we are stuck with the current system and its problems. A good first step would be for politicians and election officials to value our democratic ideals and not compromise the integrity of the process to further their own interests. Sadly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon either.
So with all of these problems, why should you vote? At this point in time, it’s the only means of control we really have over our government, despite all its limitations. We must all take steps towards reforming our political system, but in the meantime we need to use the power afforded to us to do what we can. I hope that today everyone will use their vote to make well-informed decisions about the future of our country. If enough people vote and make the right choices, our democracy may one day truly represent the people.