Welcome to my weekly Voting Matters blog. This blog is about the significance of voting in American politics. In this first post, I will talk about what voting is and what it is supposed to do.
Some people believe that voting is just a tally of "yays" and "nays." And, the group with the most supporters enjoys all the spoils. Don't be fooled. Voting is more complicated than that and involves a lot more work, especially in American politics. In fact, the head count is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let's consider the etymological origins of the word "vote." It comes from the Latin word votum meaning "a vow, wish, promise to a god, solemn pledge, dedication," which came by way of vovere, meaning "to promise, dedicate."
The Latin meanings of the word "vote" point to a commitment to follow a course of action. And, the idea of commitment is the driving force of how we presently understand the word "vote." But the idea of commitment leads us to a critical question: what determines a person's commitment? In other words, what compels you and me to commit to any particular action? Our understanding or belief about what is right and wrong or true and false convinces us to act in one way or another. Our convictions and beliefs determine what our commitments, vows, wishes, and pledges are to each other.
So for starters, a vote is an assertion of what we believe, need, and want. When an individual votes for action A over action B, she has already decided on the facts of the matter.
Accordingly, when we vote in politics, we are stating what we believe, need and want based on our understanding of the facts. Just so that we're on the same page, when I say "politics," I mean the affairs of a community or city. Politics is the result of people interacting with one another on matters that affect their individual and collective well-being. Politics arises when our individual interests clash, and when we disagree on what's good or bad for our communities.
Voting helps us to resolve our individual and collective political disagreements. Let's say you and I support different actions as members of the same community. Suppose you want more police officers in our neighborhood, whereas I think we have enough officers but need more public school teachers. Each of us insists on our mayor to adopt one of the proposed plans of action. In order to get the mayor on board with your agenda, you might try to generate support from as many individuals and civil organizations as possible to pressure our mayor to take your preferred course of action. Or, you would vote for a mayor that will adopt your measure. Of course, I'll do the same. In any case, you and I have to persuade people to conclude that our own course of action is better than the other in order to gain their support and get them to vote our way. Needless to say, this requires a lot of time and money.
Evidently, voting is an epic battle of persuasion on multiple fronts. It is a process involving a lot of thinking, debating, and, yes, compromising.
So, to vote on political matters is to deliberate the pros and cons or the cost and benefits that certain actions will give us as individuals and as a community, and then convince people to get on board.
Please take note of the word "convince." Voting is a scenario in which people agree to disagree. So that after a decision is made, all participants agree to comply to the change. More will be said about this at another time.
The second key point here is that: the goal of voting in politics is to resolve differences of opinions on matters that affect members of a community, without resulting to physical violence. "The ballot is, as often said, a substitute for bullets," American philosopher John Dewey reminds us.
There are, of course, copious and formidable threats to the integrity of the voting process (disenfranchising, intimidation, gerrymandering, buying votes, etc.), which I will discuss in the future. But the number and magnitude of those challenges do not make voting any less moral and necessary.
Essentially, voting is an instrument of reason and benevolence. Although as humans we have shown that we can be irrational and cruel creatures, we have proven beyond doubt that we are rational and benevolent as well. As an instrument for reasonable and compassionate minds, voting is the method by which we find reasonable and compassionate resolutions.
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