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[liberationtech] Freedom in the face of power and a vanishing vote

Michael Allan mike at
Sat Sep 24 17:13:23 PDT 2011

(answering in the voice of the voter)

Michael Schudson wrote:
> 1) The original 5 points Mike offers were almost certainly not
> conceived by an American -- the U.S. is rare if not unique among
> democracies in having an extensive primary election system where
> voters DO choose the general election candidate from among an often
> large group where getting one's name on the ballot is pretty cheap
> and pretty simple for most elective offices.

I used to admire your party spirit from a distance, but now I long for
what the party itself has.  The party has influence in the selection
of candidates; in the success or failure of their campaigns; and in
the drafting and passage of laws.  Yet I never heard it said that a
party has a right to these political freedoms that are denied to me.

If I were to exchange my independence for a party membership, then it
would gain me little.  The party would grant me a vote in the primary,
but the outcome of the primary would be unaffected by that vote.
> 2) The 2nd and 3rd points are either redundant -- both saying "my
> vote does not affect the election outcome" or else the 2nd point is
> nonsense (obviously one's vote does not affect the "course" of the
> election because one's vote is cast at the END of the election after
> its "course" has run!) No one tries to influence the course of an
> election with their vote but with their donations of time and money
> and discussion and debate with friends, relatives, strangers. ...

When I was a child, I was taught the importance of voting.  I was told
that a vote is a precious thing, because not all places in the world
have it.  I was told that my vote, and my neighbour's, and every
citizen's - rich or poor - would be equal.  Those were the important
things.  But now, having learned that my vote is meaningless, I wonder
if the promise of equality *in equal opportunity* is also meaningless.

> ... And, in the end, it is largely true but not 100% true that "my
> vote does not affect the election outcome." Every election year you
> read a story from one location or another about a race that ended in
> a tie or was decided by a single vote. Is it likely that any given
> individual will be a voter in such a race? No. Is it possible?
> Absolutely.

I fear I would not live long enough to see an election in which my
vote affected the outcome, or anything else in this world.  Yet every
day I am affected by the decisions of those in power, and every day I
must obey the laws.  I look around and I note that my fellow citizens
are in the same situation as I, each affected by administrative powers
and laws over which he (or she) has no comparable influence.  It was
not supposed to be this way.

> 3) The premise of the 5 points is that political freedom is a direct  
> and simple extension of being part of an electorate where one's vote  
> is likely to be decisive. Political freedom must therefore be greater  
> in small countries than in larger, or in Nevada with a small  
> population than across the state line in California. But does that  
> follow? There is, in fact, an argument that has been made (by James  
> Madison) that your freedoms are more vulnerable in small countries  
> than large because powerful individuals are in a better position there  
> to exercise their influence and twist arms to secure votes -- and they  
> are unable to do that so effectively as the size of the electorate  
> grows (see Federalist No. 10). Besides, I can't think of any  
> democratic theorist who would equate "voting" and "political freedom"  
> -- pretty much all of them would say that what makes a democracy is  
> not simply the existence of voting but the existence of voting coupled  
> with a set of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms BEYOND THE POWER OF  
> VOTERS TO DENY (freedoms of speech, press, assembly) and an electoral  
> system with more than one competitive party.

I value those freedoms and their sanctity, just as you say, and I also
respect the sacrifices of those who struggled for them.  But didn't
they also struggle for political freedom?  And now that political
freedom is denied, might not those other freedoms be denied, also?

> 4) State power and laws ARE generally speaking unaffected by your  
> individual vote -- your individual vote IS an aspect of your freedom  
> and, perhaps even more, is a symbolic REMINDER of your freedom, but in  
> actually existing democracies you put yourself in a position to alter  
> state power and change laws by JOINING WITH OTHERS (in a party, in a  
> pressure group, in a demonstration, in a union, in a petition, etc).

(The voter's resistance to joining with those others is a deliberate
strategy of the argument, I admit.  But I don't fully understand why
it seems to work so well.)


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