Voting is worth the inconvenience

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By Matt Moret / Opinions Editor / May 11, 2016

I’m the political guy.

I consume too much news, all day long. I get into arguments with my indifferent, uninformed roommates — not because our beliefs clash, but because they have no beliefs at all. Their total lack of engagement has always been an eye-roll-worthy sin in my eyes.

Which is why immediate panic set in once I realized that I might not be able to vote in my first presidential primary. Applications to receive an absentee ballot were due on the Tuesday before the election, the same day I realized that I hadn’t sent mine in yet. Postmarks were not acceptable.

I had only ever voted once — in the primary for the gubernatorial race I worked on in 2014. I had put the wrong address on my ballot for the general election that year, so mine was not among the 76,440 absentee ballots Pennsylvania counted.

Determined to prevent a repeat incident, I decided that I would take a bus 300 miles home to Levittown, Pennsylvania on Monday, vote Tuesday, then get back on a bus and come all the way back to Pittsburgh that night. This was finals week, so I had bigger things to do than spend several days riding buses across Pennsylvania but I decided to do it anyway.

Despite my enthusiasm to get to the polls, I’m not naive enough to think my vote would change the overall outcomes. Polls heading into the April 26, election day made it abundantly clear that Donald Trump was going to secure his party’s vote while Hillary Clinton walked away with her own. In my U.S. congressional district, Pennsylvania’s 8th, the party winners were equally obvious. I cared about the Senate and attorney general races enough to have preferences, but could have lived with most of the likely outcomes.

All things considered, I had very little reason to care about missing the vote. But I knew that if I did nothing it would bother me forever. I wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown or anything, but I would feel like a hypocrite for all the time I’ve spent complaining about political free riders.

Political participation is a deeply personal experience, and the fulfillment it brings is larger than electoral outcomes. Voting is one of our only means of formally expressing our ideological beliefs. People get so caught up in the hysteria of promoting their candidate or bashing someone else’s that they often miss that.

Other political exercises, such as donating money and working for a campaign, are too ethically questionable or soul-crushing to provide long term satisfaction. So there’s a certain beauty to the idea that one person in a booth can attempt to nudge the country’s steering wheel, even if it doesn’t take us anywhere.

At 6 a.m. on Monday, I rolled out of bed and took a Lyft downtown to get my bus. Everything went smoothly. Equipped with a term paper prompt, granola bars and a fitting YG song called “FDT,” I was golden. Seven hours later, I was home but still trying to decide who would get the final vote at the end of this adventure.

Choosing who to vote for had become a nearly obsessive thought. I was talking about the primary every day, multiple times at both work and home. My rationale for one person over the other was pretty evenly matched by my rationale for the alternative, in a constant tug of war that got me nowhere for months.

As a generally irritable cynic, it’s hard for individual politicians to inspire me. Politics is pageantry mixed with professional wrestling — specifically the fake elements of both. When I support a candidate it is usually based in sighs and agreement with his or her broader ideological camp, not a burning passion to see that particular person in office.

If I were one of the pseudo-intellectuals that irritate me, I would say that I vote for ideas, not people. But, the problem is that a lot of others don’t quite feel that way. Their goal when voting is to elect a certain leader instead of a platform. That’s perfectly valid, but it often leads to disappointing political experiences, because they approach voting with a strictly win or lose mindset instead of seeing the act’s inherent value.

The extremes represented in this election have produced a particularly high degree of stalwarts unwilling to take part in the political process unless everything goes their way.

An April McClatchy-Marist poll found that one in four supporters of Sanders will not vote for Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee. While that means that a majority would still vote for Clinton — and the poll also didn’t account for how many more of these people would vote for her — if it was against Donald Trump, the dedication of the #BernieOrBust minority is pointless.

The reality is that Sanders will almost certainly lose the Democratic nomination, so his supporters will have nobody to vote for in the general election if they take the “or bust” approach. What I’m saying is you don’t necessarily have to jump on the Clinton bus — you could even support a third-party candidate — but it is nonsensical to do nothing because you think nobody is willing to fight the status quo. Your first choice lost the primary, but that doesn’t mean your voice is worthless.

You can still show an opposition exists. Just show something, because your voice has a place — especially if it’s disgruntled. Winning elections isn’t all that matters. It’s the incremental steps towards change that count, because the American political machine is extremely slow-moving.

The solution isn’t to just drop out of the process. It is to adapt, readjust your focus on the remaining candidates and decide who does the best job representing you. Inform yourself and vote.

Admittedly, traveling across the entire state for a process that takes about five minutes would be extremely disappointing if I did it for Sanders, Cruz or Kasich. It’s a good thing, then, that I just did it for me. It was worth it because the end goal wasn’t that I elected a candidate, it was that I participated in expressing my democratic right.

My trip’s biggest disappointment: I never got an “I voted” sticker. I was also disappointed by missing my train three times and nearly doing the same thing a day later.

But I’m over it, because I did right by my country, my party and my conscience.

My advice to you: Come November, make sure you vote for yourself.

Matt Moret is the Opinions Editor for The Pitt News. He primarily writes about politics and rhetoric.

Write to Matt at [email protected] 

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