Informed voters save America

Daniel Herron, Staff Writer

In 2012, a total of 58.7 percent of the population voted in the general election. This isn’t a bad turnout, but is it really the number we should be looking at? It’s not, or at least, shouldn’t be, a question of how many people vote, but rather how many vote from an informed position.

It’s nearly impossible to gather data on how many people in the general population vote solely along party lines, but Congress is a different story. In the 113th congress, only 59 members voted with the majority of their party less than 90 percent of the time, according to the National Journal – that’s a bit more than 1 in 10. One can hope that individuals are more responsible in their decision making and actually investigate candidates and bills, rather than whether it has a (D) or an (R) preceding the name, but that is likely a vain hope. The truth is that few of us vote, and even fewer bother to spend more than a couple seconds deciding how to vote.

One exception is presidential elections- the vote that gets the most attention and has, perhaps, the least effect on our lives. While the President of the United States is a powerful position that can have profound effects both at home and abroad, the electoral process, gerrymandering and the sheer number of people voting on the issue means that any given individual’s impact on who gets elected is somewhere between minimal and nonexistent.

On the other hand, local politics and policies are often quite impactful on our lives. Our individual voices and votes can easily shift the outcome one way or another. Congressional elections are even more important. Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district, where most of our readers reside, has just fewer than 700,000 residents. In 2012, 390,898 people voted in the general election in that district; Mark Pocan won by 140,739 votes. Think about that: 20 percent of the people living in the area made the difference between him winning and losing.

We tend to vote for people who are already in office, without looking very closely at alternatives. Mark Pocan, like most congressmen, has had a long incumbency. Ninety percent of house members and 91 percent of senators who sought re-election in 2012 were successful, according to The house re-election rate hasn’t dropped below 80 percent since before 1964.

By looking at third-party membership in the house and senate since 1949, only six members of congress have been from a third party. Currently the US senate has only two independent members. This strongly suggests that when it comes to picking our legislators, we tend to vote along party lines.

We live in a country that is supposed to be run by the people, for the people. Yet we accept as a matter of fact that rich individuals and corporations can spend money to pass legislation. This effective plutocracy is only an illusion that only exists so long as we let it exist. The people do have the power, we always have, we need only exercise it.

We march on Washington, we protest and rally, we complain and write blogs on the internet, But we don’t do the research. We don’t ask the tough questions. We fail utterly to find good people in our area that understand the problems and have reasonable, possible solutions to fix them.  There are many solutions to what is wrong with America, and one of them is for us to actually start doing our civic duty, study a bit of political theory and philosophy, roll up our sleeves and actually try to find the mythic “General Will.”

Nov. 4 is our general election. There are 147 ballot questions as of this publication. Do you know what any of them are? Do you know where you stand on these questions? How much research have you done? Now is the time to start, not a month and a half from now when it is too late to do any real, objective research.

We don’t need to take back our country. We just have to actually start caring about how it runs.