Perspectives: Why voting doesn’t solve problems

OPINION – Off-year elections are both a curse and a blessing to those few members of the electorate who are still paying attention.

On the one hand, they’re a nice break from shameless political ads and partisan hype that are the hallmark of general elections. On the other hand, voter turnout is often below 30 percent. This is a pretty good indicator of voter apathy and indifference.

One reason that many potential voters refuse to participate is because they have a sense that voting actually changes very little. While I believe they are fundamentally correct, there is a better reason to place less emphasis on voting as a means of effecting change.

While politicians and political parties speak only in the most reverent tones about voting being the high sacrament of our civic duty, the truth is that voting alone has never been enough to make a lasting difference.

If you’ve ever stood at a voting booth scanning the ballot for a familiar name or wondering what a particular ballot measure is supposed to accomplish, you should understand why voters often fail to use their franchise wisely.

Highly paid spin doctors and political analysts have long known how to manipulate the electorate through fear and emotionally-laden language to cast their votes in a predictable manner. Using focus group-tested catchphrases and other group manipulation techniques, candidates are coached to tell us precisely what we want to hear rather than the truth.

The flip side of this sad reality is that any candidate who does speak truthfully to the electorate is said to be “unelectable.” In this sense, the apathetic public gets exactly the kind of candidates they deserve.

Voting in an election is just one small part of what real citizenship requires. Outside of the occasional primary election or the first Tuesday in November, there’s a great deal of governing going on that requires our attention and sincere efforts.

This is where attending City Council and other civic meetings is a necessity. Beyond the public meetings, a great deal of good can be done by regularly communicating with elected and appointed officials alike. If your public officials don’t know you by your first name, you’re not talking to them enough.

They don’t have to agree with what you say. Some may even think you’re being a pain in the rear but they will have a clear sense of accountability to you and anyone else who actively participates in their own governance at any level. This matters more than we think.

When we are engaged in what’s going on around us, we must beware of falling into the trap of thinking that every problem requires a political solution.

As Paul Rosenberg wisely points out, anytime we allow something to become politicized, we bring violence into the mix. Without some type of physical force behind them, all laws and ordinances would simply be suggestions. Naturally, this is prone to abuse.

It can be seen in the efforts of promoters of same-sex marriage who, upon gaining legal status in certain states, are now using the threat of state violence against wedding photographers and cake makers who, do not wish to be involved in same sex nuptials.

Which is more thuggish, the peaceable person who, for religious reasons, would forgo business rather than act contrary to their personal principles, or the person who insists that the state point a gun at them and threaten violence unless they violate their standards?

That’s just one example of what happens when a political solution is imposed to solve a cultural question. This is why we must be capable of solving problems with more than mandates from the state.

Family, religion, academia, community, business, and media all play complementary problem-solving roles to the state in a healthy society. None of them rely upon voting alone or politicized force to institute needed solutions.

It has taken us generations to drift away from active citizenship at the personal level. Correcting this problem will likely take generations of serious effort at a level where the corruption of politicized solutions has not yet taken hold.

Voting alone will never be enough to solve our considerable challenges. Still, that shouldn’t hinder our efforts to become more active politically, economically, spiritually and philosophically. When we do this, we inspire our children, family members and friends to do the same.

In the same way that it’s difficult to fill a row of milk bottles with a fire hose, a more methodical, one on one approach is likely to produce far better results.  The key is to begin right now, where we are, and to refuse to defer our personal responsibility to others.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • The Rest Of The Story November 3, 2014 at 10:29 am

    The flip side of this sad reality is that any candidate who does speak truthfully to the electorate is said to be “unelectable. In this sense, the apathetic public gets exactly the kind of candidates they deserve.”

    People of every political persuasion think that their personally favored candidate is the one speaking the “truth” and when he/she doesn’t get elected they blame it on the supposed “apathy” of their neighbors.

    Frustrated much?

  • Dana November 3, 2014 at 10:34 am

    You babble too much.

  • cranky November 3, 2014 at 10:55 am

    good article , as long as money elects candidates instead of people, we will get what we deserve.

  • Koolaid November 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

    “I support traditional and conservative values and believe in the Constitution. Vote for me.” Does that sound like a Republican candidate from Utah?

    • Zonkerb November 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      No it sound like a Republican in EVERY state

  • Big Guy November 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

    A number of good ideas in this article. Most of us feel disconnected from those who make government policy while most elected officials sincerely seek our input. They may not act in accordance with what they hear from me, but as the article points out, they will feel more accountable for whatever direction is chosen. This is particularly true at the local level, a good reason to leave as much decision making as possible to smaller government units. For those who will complain about our local “good old boys,” I would ask if they instead feel they have more influence over our state and national governments.

  • Matthew Sevald November 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Nice article.
    It is difficult in this day and age to stay politically active at the local level when both spouses work (muiltiple jobs each?), are attempting to better their lives through school or licensure, are raising children and are active in their daily activities, and are otherwise working their butts off to stay afloat and pay the bills on unlivable wages.
    I’m not talking about folks living in houses too big for them or spending their money on ATV’s, Escalades, the newest fashions when they can’t afford that. I’m talking about most of us average people who have their nose to the grindstone in the deliberately-fabricated rat race intended to keep people down.
    It’s no wonder why the ordinances in St. George are so old fashioned and based on religion – it’s only the elderly who have time to vote and complain to their civic leaders. Our system and way of living is broken on so many levels that I believe it is not fixable without drastic upheaval.

  • Notagain November 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Matthew with no time- no Escalade- nose to the grind stone, etc. Have you ever heard of mail in ballots? If the government gave you a stimulates check for voting, would you have the time then? I thought so.
    Term Limits would solve a few/ a lot of our problems. The main reason why lawyers want to be politicians? The free ride and benefits. Sure beats chasing ambulances. What a rats race. It’s so much easier to tell the elderly how nice their hair looks today and of course, I’ll look after you. (read my lips, etc).

    • Brian November 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Term Limits would solve a bunch of our problems, as long as they were “Vince Flynn”-style term limits. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve read “Term Limits” by Vince Flynn, where a group of retired military patriots use their training to, ahem, enforce term limits. I’m really surprised something like that hasn’t happened. But that form of justices belongs to God, and He will impose it in His due time (which doesn’t mean “eventually”, it means “at the right time”).

    • Matthew Sevald November 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Voting, whether in person or by mail-in ballot wasn’t the issue I or the article were talking about. The issue was about being involved on the local level, e.g. going to town hall meetings, writing and speaking with representatives, doing grass roots stuff to make your voice heard in a more meaningful and consistent way, etc. My point is that for many of us hard working people, we simply don’t have time to go do those things because we’re busy with life and keeping our heads above water.
      The only time I voted by mail-in ballot was in 2004 when I was in Iraq. I would never accept a “stimulates” check for such a thing, so you and your ad hominem can go take a crash course in spelling and reading comprehension.

      • Notagain November 4, 2014 at 7:27 am

        Matthew, I apologize. My mind was in some hole when I wrote in reaction to what you said before. Your response to my babbling set me straight. Thanks. I still feel 80% of national, 50% of locals are in the race for their own personal agenda- not for the folks or common sense.
        I still can not understand why a person votes a straight ticket dictated to them regardless of the turd running. Your response tells me you got your head on straight.

  • Koolaid November 3, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Don’t make unwise voting choices solely on the panties the candidates wear. Keep them panties secret, not exposed on the ballots.

  • Mark Boggs November 3, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    “That’s just one example of what happens when a political solution is imposed to solve a cultural question.”

    Exactly what Amendment 3 did and the vote that turned it into law.

    Sometimes, for a subset of folks, voting has dire consequences for their liberties and freedoms.

  • Zonkerb November 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Lmao like all of you have a degree in political science

  • Koolaids November 3, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    i have read these comments for a long long time finally kookaid said something intelligent traditional, conservative and constitution all go together. Lke wise kookaid, bobber, lazy, unrighteousness, unforgiving, unintelligent, pint size trolls go together.…
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • beacon November 3, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Some candidates have had “self-imposed” term limits. Take Paul Van Dam. He served one terms as Salt Lake County DA and one term as Utah’s AG because he saw the way money confuses the work that an elected official is supposed to do. When the desire to get re-elected enters the mix, the official focuses on getting money to get re-elected. He’s had self-imposed limits because of that. He’s said that’s the case for his recent run for Washington County Commissioner. He wants to get in, get the work done that he sees necessary and get out. Politicians are not all bad guys and gals. “Hope dies last,” said Studs Terkel, but apparently for many it’s already dead. Voting may not solve our problems, but at least it’s an option that people should not waste.

  • Simone November 4, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I got up early and voted for the people I thought were best suited for the job. I did not base my decisions on what party they belong too or what my friends, family or Bishop thought. I cast my vote for the canidate I thought would best serve this city, county and state. I have lived here for 9 years and I want change. I’m single under 60, I don’t want to drive 45 minutes just to have a drink and dance at Toadz. Utah is, in my opinion, a theocracy and that has to change. I voted for canidates who put the greater good of the people they serve before the wants of their church leaders. The Mormon church, or any church for that matter, should have ZERO involvement in politics. Sure you can say whatever you want in the pulpit on Sunday and individual people can say anything they darn well please but no religious leader should use his or her stance in their church to try to influence people when they vote like the Mormons and other churches did in California in 2008. It’s just wrong. Our current representatives are choosing to ignore what is going on down in Hildale. I voted for people who I believe won’t turn a blind eye to that too. I don’t like the fact that our hard earned tax dollars were spent fighting same-sex marriage. I voted for people who I hope will treat homosexuals as equals despite their own personal views on the matter. ENDA is a good thing and I hope it passes this time. I’m tired of the same people getting elected over and over and over again. Im tired of hearing people tell me that they want things to change then vote in the same people who make them complain over and over and over again. Someone once told me that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I hope that Utahns desire change enough to vote for it. I hope. Experience tells me that even though Utahns want change, they will vote against it. For my sake and theirs, I hope I’m wrong.

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