Today is mid-term election day, finally. Thank god. It seems as though we have been campaigning, fund-raising, polling, robo-calling, predicting, debating, and of course, mud-slinging for a full two years now. Too many hats in the ring, too many hands out for money. It is all quite simply too much.
I hardly ever write about politics, it being a subject that has never been of particular interest to me and, in these polarized times, one that now only invites discord and disdain from those who don’t share your views. Historically, I have often split my vote among different parties, even independents, and supported candidates not on their party affiliations, but on their positions on the issues. I have been a registered-party voter for years, but never a straight-party voter. And I am one of those people who never responds to polls (even though I am a former journalist myself) preferring, if you will, to remain under the radar of prevailing winds when it comes to election forecasting. Today, however, on Election Day, I am emboldened to offer a commentary on our increasingly distressful political situation. Please indulge me.
In a New York Times essay posted on-line yesterday (“The Morning” newsletter, 11/7), writer German Lopez calls the US a “global outlier,” in that Americans have more elections and are asked to vote more often than citizens in any other democracy, and he attempts to explain how and why that has come about. He points out that we have federal elections here every two years, with various primaries leading up to those, along with state and local elections, many of which also involve primaries. (And let’s not forget the interim elections held to fill sudden vacancies, resignations, deaths, and the like.) All in all, Americans elect over a half million officials each cycle, from President to county coroner. Heck, even my Homeowners’ Association holds yearly elections for officers and candidates campaign around the neighborhood.
Now some might say that frequent elections are a good thing, designed to hold officials accountable lest they be booted out for malfeasance. But have you noticed that there doesn’t seem to be much concern about “malfeasance” anymore, much less any real demand for either political or personal accountability. In my own state of Texas, for instance, our Attorney General Ken Paxton is running for his third term in office, in spite of being under indictment for securities fraud for the last seven years, not to mention the abuse of the power of his office with well-publicized shenanigans (often court-contested) even involving other states.
Americans’ fondness for voting dates back to the early 20th century when activists believed that more frequent elections would give citizens a greater voice and keep them politically engaged. Over time, state and local governments expanded the number of offices and put more and more propositions directly before the voters. Now back in 1900, when the total US population was roughly 76 million mostly rural citizens, that might have been an admirable intention. But now that the population has more than tripled to the 330 million diverse, mostly urban/suburban voters we have today, this voting mania has fostered some less than desirable consequences. We have created a massive political machine that has overwhelmed the general electorate, disenfranchised far too many groups through gerrymandering and outright voter suppression, and caused many tired and busy potential voters to simply tune out and stay home. Even in our national elections, voter turnout is much lower than the rate of participation in other Western democracies, and the turnout in state and local elections is so low as to be downright abysmal. (Pew Research rates voter turnout in the US as 31st among 49 democratic nations.)
Obviously, voters aren’t as involved and engaged as all the newscasters, pollsters, and pundits would have us believe. Many of us, even those who might have once been active supporters of issues and causes, just can’t deal with all the chaos and commotion anymore. We’ve had enough of the vitriol and the name-calling; enough of the politics of threats and fear; enough of the political double-speak of those who seek to serve only themselves and preserve their own power; and enough of all the conspiracy theories and court battles over voter fraud.
We’ve all had enough of nothing getting done in Congress because no one takes the long view — on climate change, on on healthcare, on education, on immigration, or on anything else that might take time to negotiate compromise and come to consensus. When you have to run for office again every two years, it is much easier and more expedient to demonize the other side, to challenge the validity of any election you lose, and to call into question the integrity of our entire democratic voting system. (Already tonight as I write this, the GOP has sued to extend voting hours over malfunctions of tabulating machines in Maricopa County, Arizona. Steve Bannon loves it.) Some 300 Republican candidates in today’s election are 2020 election deniers; some, such as Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michaels in Wisconsin, have even been so bold as to speak his intentions out loud: “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
According to Open Secrets, a non-partisan watchdog group, the financial costs of our 2022 mid-term elections are expected to top $16.7 billion, the most expensive elections in history. Biggest spenders are both the Republican and Democratic Congressional Super PACS, but let’s not forget about all the dark money, the corporate money, the donations of billionaires and special interests, and even the nickels and dimes extracted from small individual donors through repeated, and incessant solicitations? And let’s not overlook the unreported taxpayer money involved in all the lawsuits and investigations and recounts in the name of “voter fraud.” When you think about the humanitarian causes that could be served, especially here in our very own country, the amount of dollars invested in the election circus is appalling. And most distressing of all is that the cost to all of us, ultimately, is even greater than money.
It just makes you want to go to bed and forget the whole thing. But I didn’t. I voted, and for the first time in my life, I voted a straight party ticket.