Elections come and elections go. We all are tortured by political ads, lying politicians and ballot measures designed to confuse the voters. Yet just like clockwork many of us march to the polls or fill out our mail-in ballots like good citizens and feel proud that we are making a difference. We are repeatedly told by patriotic public ads and manipulative celebrity spokespeople that we need to vote and that our vote matters. We routinely fulfill our civic duty of voting and having a shared outcome in how our cities and country are governed.
After all we live in a democratic republic. Many countries do not enjoy such free elections and we should be honored that our system is so fair and unbiased. We often are meant to feel superior to others who do not have such free elections and we are shamed into believing that we have the best system in the world and we can never take that for granted.
There is just a slight problem with that way of thinking. The reality is that while most citizens have a lofty self-righteousness about voting and making their opinion heard the truth is that your vote might not really matter after all. Whatever proposition or candidate you might vote for could be a pipe dream about what actually happens in the long run. In many cases while it might make you feel better that you are voting your vote might be worthless after all. We might as well be living in a country where a dictator makes all the rules because voting is not all that it is cracked up to be.
For instance, hundreds of thousands of ballots are thrown away each year in national elections because of mistakes made by voters. (There were 540,000 ballots discarded in just 23 states during the 2020 presidential primary voting season alone.) If you did not sign your envelope then your ballot will be discarded. If the ballot arrives late then it will be thrown away. This might be your fault or it could be the fault of the post office. If the staff overseeing the ballots cannot verify that the signature on the envelope is yours then the ballot will be thrown away. How many of our signatures remain the same after many years anyways? If you did not completely fill in a box or marked two boxes in the same category then the ballot might be thrown away as well.
There is fraud in elections where people have been known to collect ballots from people and fill them out themselves for their own candidate. For instance, employees of senior living centers have been known in the past to collect the ballots from their residences with the promise that these employees will fill them out for those who are unable to do it themselves. This promise is sometimes not fulfilled as the ballots are filled out how the employee wishes to fill them out. At other times postal workers or election officials have been known to accidentally lose of intentionally destroy ballots from those who are of another political party. On occasion ballots have been discovered dumped into trash cans or into empty lots by postal workers or third party delivery drivers.
Fraud and illicit activity have been known to occur in the administration and deliver of ballots. Just because you voted does not necessarily mean that somewhere your vote is being counted. Just because you filled out a ballot and put in it a mailbox does not necessarily guarantee that your ballot will actually be delivered.
We have seen in the recent past how the use of electronic voting machines can lead to the failure of votes to register. Without a paper receipt of a voter transaction there is no guarantee that the electronic vote actually occurred. Also, there is reasonable chance of a hacker getting into a voter system when everything is digitalized. If the Pentagon and large corporations like Experian cannot keep hackers out of their computer systems how do you expect a government run election system from doing so? Just because you voted a certain way at the polls on an electronic machine does not necessarily guarantee that your vote remains unchanged in the end. We continue to hear glaring reports of instances where "bad actors" in foreign countries continually attempt to disrupt our electronic voting system. There is no guarantee when you vote electronically that someone in a foreign country has not changed your ballot.
We have also seen how majorities do not always win. In the 2016 presidential election Hillary Clinton received over 2.8 million more popular votes than Donald Trump but she still lost the election. We have in place a system called the "electoral college" whereby you have to win enough delegates from each state to be elected president. Your vote actual goes to choose which electoral college representative will vote for the office of the presidency. Most states give all of their delegates to the winner of the popular vote. When you vote you might be in the majority but still not have your vote counted.
We have also seen how some elected officials defy the majority of voters and do whatever they wish. This could come in the form of a mayor, governor, president or activist judge. For instance, in 2008 the voters of California voted to approve a ban on gay marriage in a ballot proposition. A collection of federal judges denied this vote. In essence, a few judges said that the voters' wishes do not matter and that these judges know what is best.
In 1978 the voters of California approved a ballot measure to authorize the death penalty. In 2019 Governor Gavin Newsome signed an executive order cancelling the death penalty. One man in a position of authority cancelled the votes of millions of voters. Governor Newsome again in 2019 signed another executive order confiscating millions of dollars in money that voters approved to fix roads and bridges. This proposition (proposition 69) was passed by the voters of California to apply a greater increase in sales tax on each gallon of gasoline designed to shore up deteriorating roads and highways. The governor ignored the voters' wishes and essentially stole the money intended for roadways and bridges. Instead the money is now being used for public transportation projects like rail and bus systems, bike paths and other public transportation goals. Governor Newsom told the voters of California that their vote did not matter and that he seems to know best for what those voters needs really are.
If that were not enough to convince you how little your vote counts remember California's high speed rail project. The voters approved a proposition to allow 33 billion dollars to construct a high speed rail train that would link San Diego to San Francisco. The project was promised to take five years to construct. Now, fifteen years later, the train project is nowhere near completion and its price tag has jumped to $80-100 billion dollars or more. Projection is that it will cost far more than the $100 billion dollars and take thirty years to complete all segments. In addition, most of the new rail line will not even be high speed as it travels through urban areas that have limits on the speed of trains. This is far from what the voters voted on and most who approved this bond measure might withdraw their vote today if they knew then what they know now.
Just because voters vote to approve a measure does not necessarily mean that it will happen. Politicians and judges often block the wishes of the voting public for their own personal gain. This is like if you were to bring a bag of flower to a baker and asked him to bake you a cake and you come back the next day to a great surprise. Instead of a cake the baker hands you a loaf of bread. Politicians do the same thing when they have power and use the voter's vote as just a suggestion but nothing that should be binding. Once voters approve of a measure it gives politicians free reign to transform the original idea into something quite different.
An elected official was once considered a representative of the people. That is no longer the case. Many elected officials feel like they are a lord or king and essentially do whatever they wish once they get into office. These elected officials often defy the votes of their constituents and act as if they are the dictator in their own kingdom. They act as if their voters are dumb and that they know best for what is good for them.
Voting once meant something. Today that meaning is clouded in illusion and doubt. As long as nobody holds politicians accountable then we will not see anything change. Here are some simple changes that would restore the publics' faith in the democratic process.
1. When a bond measure is approved it cannot be changed or altered. For instance, the high speed rail authority in California should not be given any more money then the 33 billion dollars the voters approved of. There should be a thorough investigation into crimes committed for overselling a project that never had a chance to succeed in the first place.
2. Changes to the electoral college need to be made. For instance, right now each state will provide delegates to the process. Instead, districts or counties should all provide delegates. Under today's system all delegates from California go to the winning candidate in that state. If you are in the minority your vote is worthless. Instead, a delegate is declared for each county based on population. A county with ten million people for instance will get ten delegates. Another county with one million people will get one delegate. Rural people vote differently than do city folks. In this manner each county will provide delegates to the total for the presidential election and not just on a state by state basis.
3. Only have walk in voting and no electronic machines and no mail-in ballots. There is an enormous potential for fraud and abuse with anything digital and mail-in ballots. How many people have their credit cards or their identity stolen on a daily basis? Electronic voting machines are no different. Voters must show up at the polls with two forms of identification with their picture on it. Voting day should be a national holiday where everyone has the day off work and there is no excuse not to vote.
4. Term limits for all politicians so that rogue politicians do not have too much time to stay in office and collect power while striking against voters' wishes.
5. Governors and mayors are no longer allowed to create executive orders. Why have voters if an elected official can just cancel those votes?
6. A single judge or handful of judges cannot deny a vote.
When you so proudly walk away from a voting booth with a tiny sticker on your chest that says "I Voted" do you feel secure in knowing that your vote actually counted? While in the past you might have had much more assurance that your vote mattered in today's climate one cannot be so sure. The new sticker that we will be passing out for voters to wear will again say "I Voted" on it. But this time we will imprint below these words a picture of two "crossed fingers". The symbolic message this sticker will say is that "yes" I voted and I cross my fingers and "hope" my vote actually counts.