Friday, October 22, 2010

Why You Should Vote. Every Election

Over at California Forward, writer Joe Mathews has posted a note on the blog explaining that he won't be voting in this election because regardless of who wins in November, the state of California won't get the systemic governance reform that it needs.

Now, I agree that California needs reform. It needs redistricting reform (which voters wisely supported last election, only to have to defend it in this election). It needs budget reform, taxation reform, criminal justice reform, referendum reform, and on and on. But I think Mathews is horribly wrong to think we're more likely to get them if we don't do our civic duty in the election.

Here's the comment I left on his blog post:
This reminds me of the late editor of The Progressive magazine, Erwin Knoll, who before his death in 1994 would write a syndicated op-ed column each election season telling people he wasn't going to vote because the choices on the ballot were too similar. I thought he was irresponsible then, and I think Mr. Mathews is irresponsible today.
A republic is not about perfection or even sometimes the good. It's just what we've got, and to choose not to participate in an election should mean that the rest of us don't have to listen to a word of political commentary from you until the next time we put things up for a vote.
Just as Mr. Knoll was wrong – really? no difference between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan? – so too is Mr. Mathews. He writes, "Not voting is a vote for trashing that system, and starting over." Seriously? Are you 13? Not voting is a decision to let other people run the system, and they're hardly likely to do it in a way that's more to your liking. There are plenty of people and organizations who are happy to have you not vote, and it's not because they agree with your politics. It's because then they get to run things.
So if the Democrats just didn't deliver for you this year, you will not be sending them a message by not voting. You will be letting the Republicans do even worse next year.

Life in a republic is not about getting everything you want. It's about having to convince people and compromise and continuing to work for what you want. I wanted Hillary Clinton to be president; she didn't win; I moved on. I want Barack Obama to be stronger on consumer protection and gay rights; he hasn't been, but I think he's working toward being better on both fronts, and if the GOP grabs power again, both of those issues will go in exactly the opposite direction.

Vote. Even if you're a Republican, vote. If you're a Democrat, be sure to vote and tell your friends. Do not let the Joe Mathews and the Erwin Knolls of the world make it out to be cool or fashionable to skip voting. Because when your health care depends on the outcome of an election, when your small business depends on financial industry regulation, when your education and your employment and your immigration and your privacy and your pocketbook all stand to be negatively affected if the other side wins, then Mathews and Knoll are the absolutely last people to whom you should be listening.
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