Well, it looks like the 2008 election campaign is in full swing, or is it? Does anyone know who the Greens are running? Or the Socialists? Or the Progressives or Populists or Workers World? Nah, I guess we don’t need them to get started. They can fill in the chorus parts at the end of the play. All we need is Big Politics. Come and get it. One party for the price of two!
Democrats and Republicans alike beseech us to get out there and vote, and why not? Besides making these self-anointed guardians of democracy seem open and civic-minded, there is the reassuring prospect that each will get their standard split (results will not vary greatly from 50/50). The virtual monopoly control of election apparat enjoyed by these two parties make them confident they will not have to face serious challenges from minor party candidates.
We are counseled that every vote matters, even a single one. While this may be true on the Supreme Court, a school board, or even a village election, as the vote count grows larger the odds alone make it progressively more unlikely that a single vote could be decisive.
The pivotal Florida count in the 2000 presidential election may seem to support one-vote-matters theory. Out of 5,861,785 votes cast in the State a mere 537 vote margin decided the whole shebang (via the Supreme Court). Okay, so 537 is not 1 but it’s tantalizingly close considering the total number of votes. Didn’t this prove that a single vote could, in principle, make the difference?
Forget it! It’s not a matter of odds. It’s a matter of appearance. In an election of sufficient size and importance, a single vote will never be decisive. That is the Florida lesson. Remembering Florida, think what would happen if the difference was a single vote, which, taking the Florida figures, works out to a margin of .000017 percent. Since this is hideously less than the margin of error in the count it would never be allowed to stand. It would be challenged and re-challenged until the margin raised high enough to quell some of the surrounding noise. All of which means one thing. Your vote will never matter!
Both parties see it as a bad sign when voters stay away from the polls. It signifies that people may have stopped paying attention. Democrats and Republicans each struggle to maintain the illusion that they are uniquely suited to guide the country that they alone deserve to lead by dint of tradition.
The absurdity is compounded each election cycle by these stalwart defenders of the status quo each promising to bring about the next great change, exploiting the public’s thirst for it.
While we are encouraged to vote for change, in our system it works the opposite way. At the present stage, the entrenched power of Big Politics is such as to render any rival upstart stillborn. It won’t happen at the ballot box, not in the expected sense. Voting is their game and you can’t beat someone at their own game.
When 100 million people vote each major party will get between 40 and 60 million each, leaving mavericks the crumbs and millions of votes to overcome. Since mavericks are the only people who represent true change (supply your own proof), what we get is reluctance to change.
If only 1 million people vote each major party will have ulcers at the prospect of their vulnerability to the maverick. The fewer people who vote, the fewer needed to upset the power balance. Is this a partial explanation of why the establishment frets about low voter turnout?
So the message is if you really want to see things shaken up, stay away from the polls. This will take some discipline considering how it counters the prevailing advice. Your vote may be personal to you, but to those in control it is a commodity. It is bought and paid for in accordance with a formula (dollar/vote correspondence) well known to those in the field (applied electioneering), only you’re not supposed to know this, even though you really know this.
You may feel that you vote freely, but ask yourself why you don’t feel free to vote for a minor party candidate. Ask yourself why you don’t want to “waste” your vote, yet instead reward with it the very parties responsible for this state of futility.
The army teaches a valuable survival lesson. When you are captured, the best time to escape is as soon as you can, because it gets harder as you go on. This presupposes something so obvious that it can be overlooked. That you know you are captive! Applying this to discussed circumstances, our primary obstacle may be that we do not fully recognize that all is futile.
JAMES ROTHENBERG can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org