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Overheard (or not) on Election Day

By Lady Liberty
web posted November 21, 2005

There are always a lot of polls conducted in connection with election day. Are you going to vote for this guy or that one? Do you think the most important issue is that one or this one? I even conducted my own impromptu poll this year the results of which assured me that most people still think voting matters (although some were cynical enough to think that, if voting really mattered, it would be illegal).

Other political statistics are bandied about year 'round, especially when they represent particularly bad news for someone. Ohio Governor Bob Taft, for example, is suffering from even lower approval ratings than did Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. President Bush isn't suffering popularity woes quite as bad as Taft's, but the numbers aren't good, either. Worse than being unpopular is an even more recent poll that shows a significant number believe the president to be dishonest.

We talk about politics. We talk about polls. We talk about a lot of things that are politically motivated, affected, or otherwise part and parcel of politics. And yet, much as our discussions about the weather, there's little we actually do about it. Few undertake activism; fewer still run for election. The one relatively easy thing that we can still do is vote.

But plenty of people who are eligible don't do that, either. For instance, in the most recent elections, only about 40% of the people in my county turned up at the polls. Local officials were touting that as being pretty good. As far as I'm concerned, it means over half of the registered voters here didn't bother. Even in presidential election years, national turn-out hovers only around the 50% mark.

This past election cycle, I did what I always do: I learned about the candidates and issues, and made my decisions. On Election Day, I went to my local polling place and cast my ballot for my choices. But apathy ensured that a few of us voted for all of us to get what most of us say we don't really want. Helping that scenario along, of course, is something even worse than apathy, or defiance, or even ignorance. And that's hypocrisy.

I don't think any of the hypocrisy is outright malicious, nor do I think people necessarily even realize what it is they're saying and doing. But it's there, and it's one of the primary reasons that voting doesn't make the difference that it could or should. It's why we're stuck with a status quo that statistics show we don't want, but which voting percentages give us again and again. And it's so obvious that it ought to go without saying. But it apparently doesn't, and so, using words I actually overheard as Election Day approached, I will.

Overheard on Election Day: Isn't it awful how those people on fixed incomes are facing more and more taxation?
Not heard — but said via the ballot box: We'd better raise taxes again so we can offer them assistance if they need it.

Overheard: ______________ (fill in the blank here) is such a wonderful program! I'm voting for the tax levy to fund it.
Not heard: It's too bad it's not popular enough to support itself. Maybe that unpopularity means something...

Overheard: I am so sick of politics as usual! Isn't there any way we can change things?
Not heard: You know what? Let's not vote for any of the incumbants. At least we can see if there's any change to politics as usual if we eliminate the usual politicians! (Kudos to the voters in Pennsylvania who showed the rest of us how it's done: they defied apathy and hypocrisy, and took a stand against ignorance, by replacing the entire school board that added intelligent design to the biology curriculum locally.)

Overheard: Can you believe the city is asking for more money again? But if we don't give them the money, they'll have to cut services!
Not heard: Some of the services the city is currently offering are completely unnecessary. Can't we cut back on gardeners or free concerts or something instead of raising taxes?

Overheard: Our schools need more money. It's for the children!
Not heard: Our schools have been falling well behind the curve for some time no matter how much money we throw at them. Maybe there's something wrong with them that money won't solve.

Overheard: Politics needs to be reformed, and so does campaigning.
Not heard: Let's be sure we vote against any and every effort toward reform because some of it is going to hurt my pet advocacy group! (California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went from being a popular upstart to an unpopular pariah, even in his own party, and saw his reform agenda soundly defeated in recent balloting, some of which consisted of election reform; Ohio's voters overwhelmingly rejected attempts at election reform there. Liberal special interest groups in California engineered the defeat there, while Republicans successfully fought a George Soros-backed series of proposals in Ohio.)

The unfortunate truth is that a single vote doesn't make much of a difference. So even if you're not one of the hypocrites yourself, and you still have enough belief in the system to walk into the election booth armed with an informed opinion, that's not enough. It will take a majority of voters in any given election before a real difference can be made. Of course, thinking too much about that and the improbability of it all is where, I suspect, at least some of the apathy comes from.

So what can we realistically do? We can fight the apathy in ourselves long enough to fight it in others. We can work to educate and then motivate our neighbors. We can campaign not for a candidate or an issue, but for meaningful reform. And we can keep doing those things until we begin to see some positive change.

Yes, the California and Ohio legislation suffered defeats due in part to voter hypocrisy, but some shortcomings in the legislation was also to blame. The positive sign here is that such legislation was proposed in the first place. There was a time when even if a few had suggested it, no one would have listened. Now the few who have suggested it have grown to many, and the politicians have had little choice but to at least give lip service to their concerns.

None of the changes so many of us claim to want will ever happen if we don't practice what we preach, and if we don't practice it and preach it loudly. And the place to begin all that is at a local level where the differences can be most profoundly and rapidly made, and from where — we can hope! — such reforms will spread. That's the idea behind the Free State Project, Free State Wyoming, and the Free West Alliance.

Many of the most committed pro-freedom activists will likely move to New Hampshire, Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho to concentrate their efforts. But that doesn't mean those who can't or won't move can't also play a role. Do what you can to change your town, your county, your state for the better. As much as we might hope that at least two or three of the fifty states stay free, it's just as true that it would be a shame if only two or three of the fifty states stayed free.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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