Election Day: Voting Rates and Political Involvement Too Low for Change

By Pat Gareau

Today is Election Day. We live in a democratic nation and it is ultimately our civic responsibility to make our voice heard by casting a ballot in November. But to many Americans, the system seems dysfunctional.
The issues facing us cannot be solved without action beyond choosing representatives once a year. In fact, the issues are inherent in the electoral system itself. It is nearly impossible for a candidate to be elected without affiliation to one of the two major parties. A significant amount of money is needed to run a campaign and the fundraising pipeline for independents isn’t there.
Many Americans are frustrated with government. After the recent federal shutdown, approval of Congress reached an all-time low. None of the debates that led to the debacle were solved. The two sides merely agreed on a new deadline a few months from now that will bring the same issues forward.
Unfortunately, there is no sign of fresh thought or sweeping change being injected into the system.  The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans are likely to be reelected and the policy debates will remain the same.
Why is New York so comfortable with Democrats and why is Texas so comfortable with Republicans? And why are Democrats from the northeast seemingly exactly the same as those from the west coast, while Republicans from Florida are the same as those from Montana?
There needs to be more distinct local political cultures in our country. The Capital Region is different than Los Angeles and our political goals should reflect this. But our congressmen tend to fall in line and blend into national party ideology.
While there is some variety in both parties, it is hardly enough to counter the partisan divide when it comes time to make policies. Ideally, we should have enough variety in each party that some would be willing to cross lines on bills that make sense to their district but may not make sense to their national party.
Or better yet, why not have more than two parties? Theoretically, the Capital Region could create its own political ideology and party that specifically reflects the population here. Democrats make up the majority, but there is so much dissatisfaction with Congress that it shouldn’t be out of the question to elect a candidate that may be liberal and similar to a Democrat but not officially affiliated.
However, many won’t even vote today. Even among those that do, only a fraction will make politics a major part of their lives.
With societal issues to address and a system that fails to do so at a satisfactory level, the first step toward making things better is to increase the level of involvement. We have unemployment, poverty, struggling school systems, health care problems and plenty of other weak points right here in the Capital Region. To make matters worse, these issues exist in the context of governments that are financially unsustainable from the local to the state to the federal levels.
Taxes are already high in New York and there isn’t much improvement. One party seems to want to take in more tax money and solve every problem through government. The other party seems to think that this is a bad idea because it will send us into a ruinous debt.
Is it possible to reduce taxes, reduce government spending and debt and address our society’s social problems more effectively?
The answer to this question is uncertain, but it seems to go unaddressed. If there was a high percentage of people volunteering and an expanded nonprofit sector, then the government might have a reduced burden to help those in need.
Today’s election won’t change much. Next year’s congressional election won’t either, unless there is some major development in our political discourse.
With a long to-do-list, citizens can rise to the challenge and make improving communities a part of their lives instead of simply voting for someone else to do it.

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