The Voting Mentality vs. the Organizing Mentality

It might seem like I was discounting the importance of voting in my last post, but there’s a big difference between how a party selects its officers and candidates and people’s fundamental right to vote in the elections that actually place people in office. As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, people’s access to the ballot is being systematically denied:

In 2016, 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

Those 17 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

(This number increased from 16 to 17 in March 2016 when Arizona’s governor signed a bill limiting collection of mail-in ballots.)

This is part of a broader movement to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote.

Overall, 22 states have new restrictions in effect since the 2010 midterm election. This page details the new restrictive voting requirements put in place during that time period.

Almost all of these restrictions have been enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures in an effort to limit the franchise and give themselves an advantage at the polls. This is a form of controlling who can vote rather than persuading people to vote for you. And, while I think this is certainly justifiable (if not necessarily wise) to do for party leadership elections, it should be completely off limits for general elections.

The fact that these laws always help the Republicans, or at least have that transparent design, should tell you all you need to know about the merits of their arguments in favor of them.

Still, although the right to vote is fundamental, people who are seeking to do more than choose between options–who want to actually effect real change–should realize that they’re no more likely to change their options through a vote in the primary than they are to change a lawmaker’s vote through a simple phone call.

If you flood a lawmaker’s telephone with calls, you might have a chance of changing their vote, but that requires organization.

And that is my point.

Elections come at the end of a long process. Elections always involve choices that were made for you by politically organized people. Controlling the choices is most of the battle, and thinking that you’ve lost your influence because you couldn’t get off work to attend a caucus is a bit misplaced. If you want to make a difference, you’ll organize a dozen people to attend the caucus that you couldn’t attend yourself.

This is the difference between passively participating in the election process and in actually getting power.

I feel like these two things have been conflated and confused as people battle over how the nominees are selected.

If you want to choose between options, then go vote.

If you want to really change things, that’s going to take a lot more commitment, and not everyone is going to have an equal amount of time, energy, and resources for that. That’s not a flaw in the system. That’s just an inescapable reality.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.