The Results of a Broken System
There were two polling booths at my precinct, neither of which were occupied before I arrived. Inside, I stared blankly at the selection of candidates for a moment before pressing the equivalent of “All Dems.” Outside the air was unusually warm for the first Tuesday after day light savings. I expected more traffic on the rest of my way home from work, but none materialized.
Casting the vote approached the same level of societal communion I get from hearing NPR use Minus the Bear for an interlude in-between segments, and wondering how many other people out there are heading home, listening to the same station, heart beating a little faster as the first twenty seconds of The Game Needed Me pours out over the speakers. The feeling is brief and leaves no discernible trace, except for a lingering sense of having momentarily touched something that transcends the details of from which it is constituted. But “what do we get from this soft transaction?”
Election results are the newsiest thing imaginable in the current media landscape. There’s something tragic in how obsessively the news media reports on the few hours in which the results are still unknown despite the dye having already been cast. It’s hard not to get the sense that many Americans spend more time watching the election night returns than they do any of the coverage leading up to them, coverage which might have actually altered how they eventually decided to vote. But, of course, who can blame them?
A citizen wishing to stay reasonably well informed would miss absolutely nothing by turning off the TV and opening up a dusty copy of Herodotus instead of watching millions of dollars worth of graphics zoom past Wolf Blitzer’s frosty demeanor. The only thing more unsettling then watching a panel of prestigious journalists and political operatives put more thought into their shirt/tie, blouse/jacket combinations than the airy platitudes they are paid to recite for the kids back home.
I’m registered to vote in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, even though I currently reside in the 6th (having recently moved). Both are a mess due to gerrymandering by Republicans, though I’m sure Democrats would have done the same had they been in control in 2010 instead.
Last night, Republican Pat Meehan was re-elected to Congress from the 7th, having defeated Democratic challenger Mary Ellen Balchunis, while Republican Ryan Costello beat out rival Manan Trivedi for control of the seat held by retiring Congressman Jim Gerlach in the 6th. Both districts have somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 residents, but in both cases the elections were decided by less than a third of them. Costello had no trouble outspending Trivendi throughout the campaign, especially once the DCCC canceled ad buys in early October. Not to be out done, Meehan outspent Balchunis by more than 5 to 1, finishing the campaign with nearly “$1.84 million on hand” to Balchunis’ $4,436.
But the biggest story of the night in Pennsylvania was “Business Man” Tom Wolf’s win over Republican governor Tom Corbett, the first to lose re-election since the state made it possible for individuals to seek a second term. Wolf spent $10 million of his own money during the campaign, muscling past potentially more experienced and qualified peers in an election year when any number of other (and potentially more liberal) Democrats could have also unseated the extremely unpopular incumbent. Only 3.5 million residents voted for either Wolf or Corbett in a state of over 12 million.
Elias Isquith wrote a short but poignant postmortem of the election last night before all the votes were tallied: How the midterms expose our dying democracy. In it, he cited an article by David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan proposing an end to the midterms. Schanzer and Sullivan’s solution was seen as too radical by man, but Isquith doesn’t think it goes far enough, at least not when “the United States of America, the self-proclaimed oldest democracy in the world, lacks the basics of real self-government: access to the polls for citizens, accountability to the voters from politicians, competition among candidates to discern the people’s will, and real options for those who feel their voices aren’t being heard.”
The United States Senate, the chamber of Congress currently responsible for the gridlock in Washington, is horribly antiquated. It gives outsized influence to smaller, rural states, and the mostly old, white men who control them. Climate change, easily the most pressing issue facing not just this country but the entire world, is both more urgent, and potentially more solvable, than ever. However, the subject went mostly unremarked on by either party this go around.
It’s clear that the American system of governance doesn’t have a place for me in it. My politics does not fit within the narrow paradigm carved out by the two party struggle. The candidates I often have to choose from rarely represent my views adequately, if at all, and the ones who do are barred from participating at the outset, whether constrained by money, misshapen electoral districts, or the apathy of other people my age.
And I am hardly alone in that regard. In fact, I would have been less alone yesterday if I hadn’t even bothered to vote at all.
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