Rethinking Politics, Elections, and the Power of Voting

Voters have the power to change all the things they disdain about the U.S. political system, i.e. the influence of money in elections, partisan battle lines on personal social issues, and more. All it requires is to form educated opinions on each candidate based solely on their positions on the issues that matter most to the individual voter rather than the party affiliation noted next to their name.

Most Americans identify as Republicans or Democrats — a total of 83 percent according to Gallup’s post-2014 midterm election poll. That leaves 17 percent who are theoretically Independents, or align with the Libertarian party, the Green party, or some other group. Anecdotally, I have never met an “Independent” who isn’t predisposed to vote for the candidates of one of the primary political parties each year. So the amount of predetermined party allegiance is probably even higher than 83 percent.

In a constantly changing world full of individuals with unique ideas, opinions, and beliefs, it is astonishing that at the end of the day, they fit neatly into one of two boxes. More likely, Americans view elections as a binary choice and they pick a party for one of two reasons:

1) They fully support certain planks of the party’s platform and those particular issues outweigh any others in their ideological hierarchy; or

2) They are entirely turned off or offended by certain planks of the opposite party’s platform.

If an individuals vote is determined in one of these two ways, some of the candidates they vote for don’t reflect the particular voter’s values at all (See Republicans and Donald Trump). There has to be a better way to elect the representatives responsible for overseeing our federal, state, and local governments.

Imagine if voters assessed the views of each candidate during each election and voted for the individual who best represented their positions on good governance and public policy. We are beginning to see small glimpses of this — if only because Americans are being forced to choose between two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in U.S. history this November.

If this trend catches on more broadly and holds, many of the problems in the U.S. electoral system will begin to solve themselves. For example, while a bit convoluted, the following would likely play out over time:

1) Candidates for office would not be forced to adhere to party ideology or tacitly agree to every item in the party platform as long as they were representing the values and ideas of the communities they represent, and the voters in that community reward them for it.

2) Money would become far less important in politics. Donors pour money into elections to help elect individuals who will support their positions once in office — whether or not these positions fully represent the candidates’ constituencies. If voters continue to elect those who best represent their positions regardless of party, large party or industry donors will not see any returns on their investments, and will eventually wind them down altogether.

3) Highly partisan issues would be far less likely to see a vote in front of any local, state, or federal legislative bodies. Majority parties don’t like to lose votes — it makes them look disorganized and out of touch if their policies cannot win the support of their own members. Majorities are usually slim, especially in the U.S. Congress. If Representatives of a party don’t vote in block, controversial measures are unlikely to pass, and consequently unlikely to receive a vote in the first place.

In short, if all politicians supported the values and beliefs of their constituents, voters would be less disenfranchised with politics and elections, the problem of money in politics would fade, and controversial, discriminatory and offensive laws would never come to be. Voters can give politicians the freedom they need to do this by supporting or opposing them based on their positions, not the party designation next to their name on the ballot.

Unless and until this happens, the only people that can get elected will be those who adhere to party and donor ideology. The goal will always be political victory rather than sound governance.

It seems like common sense — support the candidates that align with your beliefs. However, not many of us do it. Anyone who votes a party line ballot, has supported a number of candidates who disagree with them on a number of important issues, and ratified their belief in doing so.

We as voters have to take more responsibility for the leaders we elect. Let’s take a better approach. Let’s spend more time learning about individual candidates, reward them for taking risks in doing the right thing, and punish them for taking the easy way out. If you strengthen the individual politician, you weaken party ideology and donor influence. I plan to try harder in November 2016. I hope you do too.