Now, of course, that’s not really true. There are essential —and I’d argue even more impactful to my daily life — local and state races (and initiatives) that are dramatically altered by the way I vote. However, if I stick with watching the federal dramas of our day unfold, it is very easy to forgive someone like me for feeling like my vote doesn’t count.
See I live in an urban environment where the majority of people in my vicinity vote like me or hold relatively similar political leanings. The pleasure of this experience is that my elected officials more often than not vote or propose bills in the United States Congress that represent my beliefs, ethos and personal outlook on life. Awesome. (It also means dinner parties are quite pleasant, even when you bring up politics because we can all feed off our ideas in an echo chamber of goodwill and similarity. Real life Facebook.)
The downside is that when the said Congress above has a majority that skews for the beliefs, ethos, and ideology that contradict mine, I have little to no control, voice or influence on what happens next. Or, maybe I do….
Let me explain. I interned for two U.S. Senators in my blissful days of youth when I wanted to understand how our system works. (It didn’t take long for me to conclude I wanted nothing to do with politics in all its glory, but I digress.) At 22, as many patriotic, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young college grads do, I trooped off to D.C. to basically answer a hellva lot of phone calls.
If you’ve ever called a U.S. Congressperson or Senator’s office you’ll know the script: “Senator ___’s office, how may I help you?” Then they wait for you to talk. The next question that comes feels standard but is the absolute key: “Thank you for your opinion, I’ll be sure to relay your message. May I have your zip code, please?”
Zip code. They want to know if you’re in their constituency and if you have any influence on their next re-election bid. The phone-answering intern even enters your zip code into a nice, organized database. Non-relevant zip codes: on the de-prioritized list. I know it feels good to rant sometimes and that expression is happily protected by our wonderful freedom of speech laws, but FYI, you can rant all day and it doesn’t matter one iota if you’re not in their constituency and they don’t have to campaign to you when they’re up for re-election.
Okay, that’s the bad news. The good/absolutely absurd news is this. More often than not, money wins elections. See, John McCain and others over the years tried to get Congress to cap the amount a candidate could spend in any electoral race to no avail. He wasn’t crazy, a lot of other countries have civilized (reasonable, ethical, morally-correct) laws like this. In England, there are strict laws that allow candidates to spend no more than 7 million British Pounds in a race. They’re feisty on how you raise all that dough, too. In France, the cap is 16.5 million Euros and businesses are not allowed to donate to political campaigns. Out of the big 5 western democracies, only America has made a national business /sport out of federal elections. In the 2016 Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spent a total of 2.4 billion U.S. dollars. I repeat, 2.4 billion. That’s more than the GDP of at least 25 countries in the world.
Aside from being an absurd amount of money, it also displays the insane amount of fundraising candidates have to do to run. Do we really think there aren’t favors traded for raising 1 billion dollars from wealthy individuals and super PACs? And we call other countries corrupt. But again, I digress. Statistically, it also means the person who raises the most mula has a higher likelihood to (buy the most ads, go to the most places, hire the most people, fund adjacent influential races, and grassroots-campaign the best) win.
So back to my problem. Yes, my vote isn’t going to change the outcome of a hotly contested seat in Georgia that would swing the Senate majority. My vote only ensures the Georgia vote is a s*it show that determines the fate of our democracy because my shoe-in candidate still has a job.
However, because money is so important in this whole scenario, there is at least a minor, minor (but real nonetheless) chance that my money *might* influence that Georgia election. That $10 (tax-deductible) donation (combined with all other like-minded donors’ $10s) could be the tipping point that helps a candidate with my ethics run one more ad, or support one more volunteer to canvas for them.
When I was a girl, I was told stories from the 1800s about exciting elections won by one vote that reinforced my civic duty as an American. In this day and age, without campaign reform, I think it’s time for us to consider that our vote, but really our money, is the representation of our voice in the American sport we call elections.