Voting When It Doesn’t Matter

It’s election day, my first in DC, and I voted this morning. I was musing with Hedda on our way to the polling place about how depressing it is that our vote really doesn’t matter. I don’t mean that in the figurative sense that most people voting (or not) today might, but in the most literal sense possible: My vote really doesn’t matter. Not only are we denied representation in Congress, but even our local elected officials have no real power. The Mayor, the D.C. Council, our ANC representatives: Every person we marked a ballot for this morning has no real final authority because our locally enacted laws and policies can be arbitrarily overridden by Congress, in which, as previously mentioned, we don’t even have representation.

But we did it anyway. We voted, going through the motions in some sort of pathetic Democracy Theater. For us, the ring of the bell of freedom is hollow and shrill - gutted by the dissonant noise of power-hungry politicians who fail to act to correct this moral injustice that is anathema to the ostensible founding ideals of our nation. It was incredibly depressing.

The ballots, however, were the best I’ve ever used. I’ve voted on touch screens (Virginia, 2004), paper punch cards of the infamous hanging chad variety (Chicago, 2002 & 2000), and while I didn’t vote in 1998 and 1996 due to failure to obtain an absentee ballot while I was away at college, I do remember the insane switches and levers inside the big mechanical voting machines from when I used to go inside them with mom and/or dad when I was little. The ballots today definitely win in every way.

Filled in ballot arrowIt was a paper ballot: a big 8½ x 16 piece of high-grade, almost paperboard material. The names were clearly printed, and next to each name was an arrow, broken into two parts. To vote for a candidate, you simply drew a line, connecting the pieces with a pencil to create a complete arrow. Then you would walk the ballot over to a machine, which sucked it up into its gullet, and that was that. (Feel free to check out the sample ballots from the primary.)

So let’s see:

  • Simple Enough for Anybody: Check
  • Easily Machine Countable: Check
  • Paper Trail for an Audit: Check
  • Minimal bulky, expensive equipment: Check

Why can’t it be this simple everywhere? Why on earth do we need insane, computerized, touch-screen voting? Maybe I’m wrong: Maybe nobody’s vote matters anymore.