Vot­ing for a bet­ter US po­lit­i­cal sys­tem

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal train has gone off the rails, and it seems far­ther than ever from get­ting back on track. There has been a lot of fin­ger point­ing, with com­men­ta­tors blam­ing is­sues like ger­ry­man­der­ing, ris­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity, the cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem, and un­bal­anced jour­nal­ism. But the public can­not ad­dress these gen­uine flaws in the sys­tem di­rectly. What they can do is tackle an­other fun­da­men­tal prob­lem: low voter turnout.

The beauty of democ­racy is that, if peo­ple vote, they can ef­fect change. It may not hap­pen as quickly as they would like, and the can­di­dates may not al­ways be ideal. But vot­ers can still help shape their coun­try’s fu­ture.

Nowa­days, many are po­lit­i­cally dis­il­lu­sioned. With the rich and pow­er­ful pulling the strings, or­di­nary peo­ple feel that they have no in­flu­ence on elec­toral out­comes. So, they con­clude, they might as well not regis­ter or show up to vote. This be­hav­ior is most prom­i­nent among young peo­ple and some eth­nic groups, par­tic­u­larly Lati­nos and AsianAmer­i­cans.

To be sure, com­plaints about US pol­i­tics are not un­founded. In­come in­equal­ity is on the rise, with the top 1% hold­ing a vastly dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of wealth, while mid­dle- and lower-class in­comes re­main largely stag­nant. And there is too much money in pol­i­tics, ex­em­pli­fied by the in­flu­ence of in­ter­est groups like the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

It is worth not­ing that in US pol­i­tics, the money over­whelm­ingly goes into ad­ver­tis­ing and other cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties, not the pock­ets of cor­rupt of­fi­cials. But there is still an ur­gent need to ad­dress the out­size role of large donors. The Supreme Court’s 2010 de­ci­sion in Ci­ti­zens United, which opened the flood­gates for po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions by cor­po­ra­tions, should be re­versed. And con­certed steps must be taken to achieve greater in­come equal­ity.

But there is a way for the public to ad­dress both in­equal­ity and cam­paign fi­nance: vote.

A cit­i­zen who stays home, rather than vot­ing for the can­di­date he or she prefers, is merely re­in­forc­ing the im­pact of the fat cat who do­nates to the op­pos­ing can­di­date’s cam­paign. If peo­ple want any say over their coun­try’s di­rec­tion, they must do their part to elect the most ap­pro­pri­ate can­di­date.

As usual, in Novem­ber’s US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, it is the Demo­cratic can­di­date, Hil­lary Clin­ton, whose plat­form in­cludes poli­cies that will pro­mote greater eco­nomic equal­ity, in­clud­ing a more pro­gres­sive tax sys­tem, higher wages, and univer­sal health in­sur­ance. With enough sup­port in Congress, Clin­ton would en­act these poli­cies. The Repub­lic can­di­date, Don­ald Trump, favours the op­po­site poli­cies: cut­ting taxes for the rich, keep­ing wages low, and rolling back health-care re­forms.

Like­wise, the Democrats want Ci­ti­zens United re­versed, whereas the Repub­li­cans want it up­held. Be­cause the next US pres­i­dent will have the op­por­tu­nity to ap­point at least one Supreme Court jus­tice (and po­ten­tially up to four), a vote for Clin­ton may well be a vote for over­turn­ing a de­ci­sion that has con­trib­uted to voter dis­il­lu­sion­ment. While that out­come is not guar­an­teed, one thing is: an an­gry blog post about how the sys­tem is rigged, or a vote for a third-party can­di­date with no chance of win­ning, will have no ef­fect – or worse.

In fact, a “protest” vote for an im­pos­si­ble third-party can­di­date can pro­duce an out­come that is much far­ther from one’s own val­ues than a vote for a can­di­date who has a plat­form more closely re­sem­bling that of the “ideal” choice. In 2000, the 2.9 mil­lion votes that were cast for the Green Party’s can­di­date, Ralph Nader, cost Demo­cratic can­di­date Al Gore the elec­tion.

While not all Nader vot­ers would have pre­ferred Gore to his Repub­li­can op­po­nent, Ge­orge W. Bush, ev­i­dence sug­gests that they favoured him by al­most 2:1. Had Nader sup­port­ers cast their vote for a ma­jor party can­di­date, they would have de­liv­ered Gore more than enough votes to se­cure his vic­tory – he lost Florida by only 537 votes – and ended up with a pres­i­dent whose val­ues were much more closely aligned with their own.

In the up­com­ing elec­tion, an­other Green Party can­di­date, Jill Stein, threat­ens to draw votes from Clin­ton, in fa­vor of Trump. While Clin­ton may not be the ideal can­di­date for many of those vot­ing for Stein, her plat­form is surely much more “green” than Trump’s. Yet protest votes, to­gether with protest non-votes, could pro­duce a de­cid­edly brown out­come.

This risk should be starkly ap­par­ent, given the United King­dom’s ex­pe­ri­ence in its June ref­er­en­dum on Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship. When it emerged that 52% of the votes were for “Leave,” many young peo­ple were fu­ri­ous; al­most 75% of 18-24-year-olds wanted to re­main part of the EU. But only one-third of them had ac­tu­ally voted. Mean­while, more than 80% of vot­ers aged 65 and older cast their bal­lots, largely for Brexit. If young peo­ple had turned out at just half the rate of the old, the mar­gin prob­a­bly would have been re­versed.

Some coun­tries have found a way to boost voter par­tic­i­pa­tion. Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, has made vot­ing manda­tory, with a small fine for non­com­pli­ance; as a re­sult, it achieves 94% voter turnout, on av­er­age, com­pared to 57% in the 2012 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. A less dras­tic step that the US might take would be to move Elec­tion Day from Tues­day, when some peo­ple can­not leave work, to the week­end.

One might ar­gue that vot­ing should re­quire mo­ti­va­tion and ef­fort, in or­der to weed out those who are un­in­formed or un­in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics. But this ar­gu­ment ap­plies to only some of those who do not show up to vote. Many oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the US, fol­low the news and care about na­tional pol­i­tics, but stay home on Elec­tion Day be­cause they be­lieve their votes don’t mat­ter. But the truth is that their votes will de­ter­mine the out­come of the elec­tion.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said it best at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in July, when a few del­e­gates booed the men­tion of Trump’s name: “Don’t boo. Vote!” That is a mes­sage that must be re­peated, like a mantra, un­til Novem­ber.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.