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What If They Held an Election for President and Nobody Showed Up?

Bob Fells's picture

Why We Vote

[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why a knowledge of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]

What If They Held an Election for President and Nobody Showed Up?

If I had a time machine and could only use it only once, I would zoom ahead fifty years just to see what History has to say about the 2016 Presidential Election. Will it be known as the “Year of The System is Rigged” or perhaps it will be remembered as the election where regardless of who won, We the People lost? Only Time will tell but in the meantime I offer my thoughts on what many folks regard as a bad joke or evidence that this great nation has begun its decline. But don’t look for any Pollyanna bromides from me. The situation is very serious but then so was World War II.

The title of this essay is a riff on a silly bit of profundity from the 1960s. The original quote was, “What if they held a war and nobody came?” My reaction a half century ago was “Huh?” But now that I am older and wiser and have seen much more of the world, my reaction today to this nifty little question is, “Huh?”

As I outlined in my “Washington Report” column in the current issue (August/Sept) issue of ICCFA Magazine, the two political parties have the same two-part strategy for winning on Election Day. The first part of the strategy is obvious: persuade as many people as possible to vote for my candidate. You don’t need to be a political science major to know that one. But the second part of the strategy is less obvious: to discourage people who won’t be voting for my candidate from voting at all. Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Huh?” Let me explain.

Everybody knows that there are not enough committed Democrats or Republicans to win the election for their candidate. In fact, the election will be decided by the independent voters who could care less about party affiliation. They are the swing voters who will elect either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. Let’s not kid ourselves, the party faithful will be voting come hell or high water, even if they have to crawl on their hands and knees to the polling place. Yes, they will encourage others to vote as well, but they will also seek to discourage those from voting for their opponent. Here’s how that works and there are several tactics:

1.) The “Don’t Waste Your Time” ploy: you normally don’t vote but feel strongly this year about one of the candidates. Unfortunately for me, it’s not my guy (or gal). If I can’t get you to vote my way, maybe I can get you to just stay home so you won’t be helping to elect the opposition. I will encourage you not to waste your time voting. I mean what is your measly one vote going to do? Surely you have better things to do with your time. So go with your gut instinct and don’t bother voting. After all, both candidates are damaged goods and that way you can’t be blamed no matter who wins, or so I’ll try to persuade you.

2.) The “Laugh Your Way Out of Voting” ploy: the late night talk show hosts are experts with this one. They ridicule the candidates so audiences get the impression that the candidates are just clowns and we, no surprise here, shouldn’t waste our time voting for them. I used to enjoy political humor at the expense of both parties but now I ask where do all these jokes leave us? They leave us discouraged and perhaps deciding not to have anything to do with the election. Again, this is good if you’re not voting for my guy.

3.) The “What’s in It for Me” ploy: Since at least the mid-1960s members of Congress have been promising constituents that they will benefit from government largesse if they just vote for that candidate. Often it takes the form of bringing projects to the state for jobs, or personal benefits based on an individual’s circumstances. This is why Term Limits failed because senior members of Congress who “brought home the bacon” would step down and be replaced by somebody else who would channel the “bacon” to their state instead. When voters realized that Term Limits were a two-edge sword, the idea died the death of a dog. This also explains why certain senior members of Congress who would be long-retired in any other profession are still showing up for work.

4.) The “Absentee Voting” ploy: Since it’s perfectly legal, encouraging people to vote by absentee ballot has become an increasingly popular election strategy. It’s easy to qualify – I’ve done it myself – since you only have to say there is a reasonable likelihood that you will be unavailable to vote on Election Day (out of town, sick, in the hospital, etc.) and so you want to vote now instead. Back in the day, absentee ballots were not counted until all the election day ballots had been counted and they rarely changed the outcome of an election, whether local or national. But when strategists realized that many people who intended to vote stayed home on election day because it was raining or too cold or too hot, absentee voting suddenly became an important tool in winning. So if you are “iffy” about showing up on election day, find out where you can vote in advance by absentee ballot. You will only be encouraged to use this method of voting by people who think you’re voting for their guy. Think of it as a political version of preneed.

5.) The “Federal Government is so Huge that It Doesn’t Make Much Difference Who is the President” ploy: Lots of people think up this excuse for not voting all by themselves. But you only have to look at our last two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to realize the huge consequences their actions had on our nation and on all of us as individuals. Executive Orders are actually laws that a president can issue all by himself and without the consent of Congress. There are limitations to the actions a president can take through Executive Orders but a challenge must go to the Supreme Court and that third branch of our government is not known for its speedy response to litigation. So as a practical matter, the president can make his own laws that will be in effect for a certain length of time before corrective action can be taken, if it’s ever taken. Also, Executive Orders can be repealed by the new president signing a new Executive Order rescinding the previous one. So the point here is that the president can and does yield a great deal of influence that can affect each of our lives. If you don’t vote, regardless of your opinion of the candidates, you are letting other people decide your fate.

A good fallback position in deciding who to vote for, especially if you dislike both candidates, might be to shed any feelings of self-dealing and ask the age old question, “Which person is best for the nation?” That may sound like something you’d hear in a high school civics class but it’s a legitimate question. As long as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln aren’t running this time around, we need to parse what’s on the ballot. I have my own idea of who I may vote for – and if you don’t agree then let me urge you to stay home on Election Day! :)