The Values of Voting

PERIODICALLY, the U.S. political scene is subjected to a ritual of readjustment at the hands of eligible and willing voters. Our particular species of democracy rests enormous weight on the electoral process and has regularly made elections the litmus test of a functioning democracy in other countries.

Many of us who are still waiting for this system of representative democracy to birth "liberty and justice for all" recognize the complex layers of reality attached to the voting process. We know very well that, in spite of repeated efforts at campaign reform and attempts at exacting a measure of ethical and social accountability from elected officials, those who run for office almost by definition have to come from among the most privileged in our society, and rarely have life experience in any measure like that of the majority in our land.

We know too the tremendous influence of money before, during, and after election day. While the United States has witnessed little overt fraud in the balloting process, political power here is manipulated and controlled in more subtle and equally effective ways. Some of us harbor a deep skepticism about the capacity of our system to produce elected officials willing to make decisions independent of special interests. Then why do some people choose to vote?

Perhaps it is an affirmation of the possibility of redemption. Perhaps it is an abiding belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity. Perhaps we are trying to claim whatever measure of value and justice remains in our political tradition. Perhaps it is hope or foolishness or a willingness to risk disappointment once again, or an unwillingness to risk at all.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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