So, tomorrow is election day here in the US. If you’re a US citizen and you haven’t voted yet, now’s the time to make plans. As I noted in the last post, this is not the year to sit the election out. The most recent projections still show Clinton with a slight to modest lead, but the outcome of this election is not foregone by any measure. Particularly if you live in a swing state, your vote will matter.
Personally I also don’t think it’s the year for a protest vote. However, if you’re bound and determined to make such a vote and you live in a swing state, but would prefer to find a way to avoid aiding and abetting Trump, you might consider doing a vote swap with someone who isn’t in a swing state. As I mentioned in the last post, a ranked voting system, as opposed to our current first past the post system, would make this unnecessary.
If you’re like me, and always been a bit irritated that the journalists and politicians seem to have access to exit poll data long before we the public do, you’ll like this. Starting at 11am eastern time tomorrow, Slate and a site called VoteCastr will begin making projections based on the polling data available at that point, updating it throughout the day. Of course, in close states like Florida, the data may be off enough to project the wrong victor, so if you watch this, do it with that in mind.
With all the talk about voter intimidation and long lines at the polls, I’m reminded of the fact that, while all states have absentee voting by mail, most only allow it if you have an approved excuse. However, three states have voting by mail as their primary method without any reported issues. It seems like voter participation in this country would be a lot higher if this was the rule across the country. I know my future questions for any politicians running at the state level will be if they support this, and if not, why not?
Finally, there’s been some talk recently wondering if universal suffrage is the best form of democracy we could have, with some people wondering if we shouldn’t restrict the vote to people with a minimal amount of knowledge, most eloquently described by Jason Brennan in this Aeon article. I’m all for voters being more informed, but I think using knowledge as a prerequisite for voting is a terrible idea.
As Brennan himself observes, figuring what knowledge would be crucial would itself be an intractable political problem. It’s worth remembering that the US southern states once used literacy and arbitrary knowledge tests as a mechanism to disenfranchise blacks and other minorities. The idea that they could be brought back but this time keep it fair and objective is one we should be deeply skeptical of.
And my reading of history is that political leaders take care of their power base. They may or may not take care of people outside of that power base, but any time there is a conflict of interests, those in the power base win. Brennan cites research that people don’t vote selfishly in elections. While I’m not familiar with that research, I am familiar with history, and it shows that voters have not historically had that altruism.
Suffrage, the right to vote, didn’t expand by those with the vote altruistically expanding it. In almost all cases, those without suffrage who wanted it had to fight and put pressure on them. Women only got the right to vote after decades of women’s suffrage movements. And blacks only got their right to vote secured after they began marching in the streets in the civil rights era.
It’s also worth noting that the people who opposed these groups getting voting rights were often among the most educated and knowledgeable people in the country. The KKK’s ranks once included doctors, lawyers, politicians, and even at least one US President. Knowledge didn’t make any of these people more altruistic in considering the needs of others without power.
I can understand the sentiment in the year of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Democracy doesn’t guarantee that the populace will make good decisions. Although people generally know when their lives are getting materially worse, so I do think democracy dramatically increases the probability that terrible rulers will lose power and bad directions will be reversed. Anytime we in the west start to bemoan the quality of our leadership, a quick glance to places like North Korea, where large swaths of the population reportedly live in starvation, shows that democracies with pervasive suffrage, while far from perfect, are also far from the worst possible forms of government.
None of this means that I’d be sanguine if the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, pathologically lying bully that is the current Republican nominee won. I think it would be a disaster and a dangerous threat to our democracy. But so would be taking the vote away from people who didn’t have the “right knowledge”. Ultimately, the best solution for threats like Trump is to educate people as much as possible, and hope that enough of them sensibly don’t choose destructive paths.
Anyway, remember to vote. Your future may well depend on it.