Pulling the Curtain and Throwing a Lever

I don’t know. It’s a catchy title, but does anybody actually still have the voting booths with the levers, cables, buttons and lights? Where I live we now simply color little circles with a felt-tip pen, and feed the paper into a scanner. I kind of miss the old machines; they made going to vote seem a little like going to the carnival. Levers, cables, blinking lights, long lines in the fall evening air. I’m thinking that the metaphor seems like a good one.

I’m also thinking that when it comes to the big elections, I vote these days in pure faith—an unjustifiable belief in hope that the act of voting, per se, serves a purpose. I’ve decided I have a few major reasons why this act of great privilege and freedom has come down to blind faith for me. One, I am unconvinced that vote counting is done honestly. Over the years I’ve read a number of stories that have given me pause. Certainly there is no form of voting, from punch cards to felt-tip pens to computers to what-have-you, that is fool-proof. Let’s be real: if a teenaged geek can break into a government computer and manipulate data over the internet, well, what do you think a political party could do if they felt it was for the good of the country? Jimmy Carter has worked the honest-election issue all over the world, and he says that if you think ballots in the United States are reported and counted honestly, you’re simply naïve. Two, the mathematics of our system are questionable. I’m not talking popular vote versus electoral college, which is old news; I’m talking about the idea of casting a single vote for a single candidate. There are scenarios, and not particularly complex ones, where this fails to elect the candidate most desired by the majority. Three, I have also come to have serious doubts about campaigns. It seems clear to me that the campaigns are designed to appeal to our ignorance, our fears, our selfishness and our emotionally-fueled opinions more than anything else. It seems to me that if I’m really as stupid as the candidates, their campaign teams, their backing machines, the pundits and analysts seem to think I am, then I should not be voting. It is a great irony that the law demands at least the maturity of an eighteen year old person to vote, and yet the campaigns are directed at the minds of thirteen year olds. Four, even if there is no cheating and the even if the methodology doesn’t fail us and even if the campaigns appealed to our better natures, well, let’s be honest: how in the world are we supposed to know, really, which candidate’s victory would result in the best outcome for the nation? If each candidate lived in my house for a year, I might well know which one I’d prefer to see in the White House, but I probably would still have no idea which one would actually run an administration that most benefited the country in the long run. Yeah. It’s pretty pointless, really.

So. Reason number five that voting is an act of faith for me: As long as the people in power have to deal with the fact that the people have some sort of say, it’s a good thing. As long as there’s a chance that we can keep truly insane people from being in power, it’s a good thing. As long as people believe they have a say in the good of their nation, they will remain interested in the good of their nation, and this is a good thing. Similarly, as long as people feel a sense of civic duty and responsibility, there is a chance they will act in civic duty and responsibility, and this is a good thing. As long as a nation must advertise the idea of liberty, the idea of liberty will not die, and this is a good thing. There is always a chance that the system will work, and that chance is a chance worth taking. And yes, I have my doubts about all of these. Faith doubts. But, faith always hopes.

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