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A Rebel Without a Vote PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 31 October 2006 22:44

This week's article by Jeff Ignatius, "Rock the Vote Boat," underscores the enormous weight of each American's vote. Ignatius concludes with a quote from The Broken Branch: "Citizens at the polls are the most powerful agents of change."

Thus begins my traditional election-time mantra: Get out and vote! Do it because (1) it's your civic duty as an American; (2) it's your constitutional right and privilege as an American; or how about (3) because it's the last thing the politicians want you to do. There's a reason for this.

The two major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, make it their political mission to encourage voters to stay home. Historical poll data clearly shows a consistent percentage of voters who cast ballots in every election. Sadly this percentage is less than half of all eligible voters, which means that the majority of voters consistently don't vote. And that is the percentage political strategists work the hardest to maintain.

Why? Because influencing the smaller number of consistent voters is more easily managed - the scope of issues substantially narrows - creating a far more predictable outcome. These voters are targeted utilizing a more focused campaign strategy, such as direct mail, invitation-only political events, phone messaging, etc. to secure their vote.

The more important strategy, however, is the unspoken campaign to keep voters away from the polls by deepening the public's sense of disenfranchisement, encouraging distrust and apathy. Both parties accomplish this with negative ads, nondisclosure of candidates' positions on most issues, and focusing on the past rather than the future.

The mainstream media is also a big contributor to this campaign. Its coverage of politics lacks relevance, for the most part, leaving the public disinterested and uninformed.

Many of the studies allege that negative advertising, campaign spending, or distrust of government is the reason behind less voter turnout. Ignatius accurately concludes that it is the combination of these that is likely the culprit. The gross lack of information about candidates, whether incumbents or opponents, is another important factor. Both parties advise candidates to ignore surveys and press that potentially pin down their positions, leaving these politicians less accountable if elected.

Directing public attention away from issues and toward personalities is what constitutes political fare. A perfect example is the recent diatribe in the media regarding Michael J. Fox's campaign ad stumping stem-cell research and Rush Limbaugh's criticism of it as disingenuous. The media discussion is strictly focused on the personalities - Fox and Limbaugh - rather than the issue and its controversy: the advance of medical relief/cures for myriad diseases versus fatal experimentation on potential human beings in the name of research.

I believe the Democratic and Republican party leadership know their credibility is waning - more voters than ever before prefer to declare themselves as independent -compromising each party's political clout because younger voters (Baby Boomers and younger) tend to vote according to issues rather than party affiliation.

Therefore, both parties and the media deliberately blur differences in favor of scandals, distortion of already vague facts with oversimplification, and a sort of hammering of slogans and generalizations that consistently fails to empower voters.

The candidates are no better in allowing this level of dumbed-down campaigning, but the real blame goes to party leadership and individual campaign managers, who ultimately direct the flow of information about their candidates.

Most political strategists employ a sort of bunker mentality - lying low and divulging as little as possible by keeping to broad-based discussions and avoiding political commitments to one side of an issue - when dealing with the public. As the nation's primary watchdog, it is the media's job to engage candidates in a more specific, meaningful dialogue to inform us.

Instead, the mainstream media dutifully contribute with endless presentations of poll updates and partisan discussions rather than relevant issues and candidates' positions, denoting an incredibly lazy effort. At a minimum, especially considering modern technology's access to data, how hard would it be to disseminate the voting records of incumbents and examine the opposition's specific differences as a means of comparison?

For instance, in the race for Scott County supervisor, most of the candidates have previous voting records that should be examined. The participation of three incumbents, Greg Adamson, Larry Minard, and Chris Gallin (an appointee in July 2005 after Otto Ewoldt retired), arguably had a positive impact based upon Scott County's continued exceptional rating for fiscal excellence. As a previous alderman for Davenport's First Ward, challenger Roxanna Moritz has a well-documented, often controversial, voting record that overwhelmingly favored special interests. The fifth candidate, challenger Richard Golinghorst, has no apparent political experience, but as a career farmer he would provide important rural and small-business representation.

Another example is the race for Scott County treasurer featuring seasoned incumbent Bill Fennelly and ex-Seventh Ward alderman Tom Engelmann. Again, Fennelly is part of a team that consistently wins awards for fiscal excellence as a county. On the other hand, as a previous Davenport alderman, Engelmann was consistently obtuse with regard to financial matters, joining Moritz in favoring special interests more often than not.

It is also important to note that both Moritz and Engelmann were significantly instrumental, along with the mayor and other past and present aldermen, to the exoneration of Administrator Craig Malin (accused of breach of contract when he nicked approximately $6,000 in cost-of-living increases that the city council did not explicitly authorize), costing taxpayers an additional amount of approximately $45,000 to cover his legal fees and suffering.

Without illuminating information about candidates that provides indicators to the kind of governance the public can expect, voters end up at the polls with very little knowledge of the many names appearing on the ballot, resulting in political insecurity - you don't want the responsibility for voting the wrong person into office - and overall civic impotence because you aren't sure if or how your vote will ultimately impact issues you care about.

The really good news is that regardless of all the above, your individual vote can work wonders. Believe it because every unexpected vote contributes to gumming up the works by confounding predictions and rendering strategies obsolete. In the bigger picture, the larger the voting bloc, the more difficult it is for parties and/or candidates to manipulate elections. In addition, larger voter turnout forces politicians to address a far broader scope of issues to positively influence voters, ultimately shifting priorities to accommodate a wider range of civic needs. This holds true for all electoral processes, from national to municipal.

This political reality is demonstrated throughout the current midterm election with the administration's shift away from its "stay the course" strategy for the war in Iraq. This is clearly due to its fear of losing Republican control of Congress. Our potential collective vote is causing the body politic to respond to public consensus. This example should confirm for voters and politicians alike that, in the final analysis, the real power behind governance in America is the people's executing their right to vote.

Common sense dictates that a true democracy depends on large voter turnout. Without it, governance passes to a select few who control all its important aspects, such as civil rights, taxation, and spending.

The power of the people is exacted through individual votes or conversely is diminished through lack of said votes. In this light, the power of each vote becomes evident, even exciting! So vote next Tuesday, November 7, and catch a buzz.

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