The Presidential primary process is settling into full swing now, as I am constantly reminded by emails from various political and activist groups. Everyone’s eyes are on the Democratic showdown between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, and the news is rolling in hard and fast every day. Hillary calls Obama a slum-lord, Obama brings up Hill’s stint on the Wal-Mart corporate board; who’s talking today about race, gender, and of course change? It’s all very exciting, and I have watched the primaries like some people tune into the playoffs, cheering and booing during the debates, the speeches, and the polls (which have turned out to be about as reliable as a weather forecast). It’s a thrilling time, but before we get too carried away, I feel compelled to mention a few sobering facts. Like how, if you are voting in the Democratic primaries your vote only sort of counts. And that’s even without considering the rotten machines which have never been remedied. Not to mention that many of us won’t get to vote at all, even though we are paying for the privilege.
Your Vote Kinda Counts
In the Democratic Presidential primaries, some votes count more than others. Which is to say that your vote counts just as much as everyone else who shows up at your polling station, but we all know that the Democratic candidate is not chosen by the people. He or she is chosen by the Democratic delegates. Which, you may say, is essentially the same thing, since the delegates vote for whomever received the most votes in their district. Not so fast. You are aware, aren’t you, that there are in fact two classes of Democratic delegates? There’s the regular 3,253 delegates, which depending on where you live, will be elected or appointed in mysterious ways at some point or other over the next five or so months. These delegates must vote for whomever their district chooses. And then there are the “super-delegates”, who are appointed by the Democratic National Committee. All 796 of them. That is, in case you were wondering, right about 20% of the Democratic primary vote. So working it out, (using 2004 Democratic primary turnout statistics), each delegate’s vote in the DNC is worth approximately 3,989 of our votes, but a fifth of those voting will not be bound in any way to vote according to the will of the people. They’re old-school political hacks, such as Bill and Hillary Clinton (guess who they’re voting for?), appointed by the party to make sure that the will of the people doesn’t conflict with the tried-and-true methodology of party wisdom. Just bear that in mind, when you go into the little booth and pull the curtain to choose your Democratic party Presidential candidate. Assuming you actually get a vote. Which brings us to…
How Independents Get Screwed
Perhaps you look at the two major political parties in the United States, and they both strike you as corrupt, mismanaged, and generally not anything to which you ever want your name attached. So you sign up as an “Independent”. It seems like a simple decision, until you get to primary season, where, depending on your location, it can become quite a big problem. In some states, as an Independent you get the joy of voting in either the Democratic or Republican primary. Seeing as there are no “Independent Primaries”, this makes sense and you are probably rather pleased that you can choose between all the candidates in an attempt to pick the least offensive one. In other states, however, you get no vote whatsoever. Like North Carolina, the location from which I am writing this little rant. Now mind you, I wouldn’t really be annoyed about not getting to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries if there were any viable third-party candidates and I could go choose one of them. But there aren’t, that our system is designed to keep it that way. Consider for example public funding of the Presidential elections, wherein a third-party candidate can receive some portion of the funding the Democratic and Republican candidates get, based on how well that party’s candidate did in last year’s election compared to the two “real” candidates. You folks who check “yes” on the voluntary checkoff box on our tax forms which is the source for public funding (though I sure wish you could chuck it at scientific grants or public education or something more useful), doesn’t it bother you just a little that you are fueling a process which limits the playing field without significantly reducing corruption? Ah well, probably not as much as it irritates Independents in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia, none of whom get a vote in the primaries, even if they pay their $3.
And the Machines Still Suck
Look, I have harped on this so long I am sick of hearing myself go on about it. So to just sum up: the voting machines are still screwed, and we are going to hear accusations of fraud every single time they are used, from now through next November. You would think people would demand their replacement, if for no other reason than to get the conspiracy theorists to shut up.
Until and unless that happens, you have absolutely no assurance whatsoever that your vote was counted.
Expecting Change, Are You?
I am the last one to tell people to give up and sit quietly. As a nation, however, we cannot even begin to fix the problems we have institutionalized until we recognize them and call them by name. Obviously, these are just a few of the issues with our election system, the few that happen to be highest on the list if you happen to be an Independant voter who really wishes they could vote for a particular Democratic candidate in a back-assward state. But no matter who you are or where your beliefs fall in the political spectrum, if you truly want a democratic system, with the will of the people fully expressed, it is in your benefit to demand change. Not just for yourself, but for every single other person in this country.