RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Don’t Wait to Vote for the Perfect Candidate

“I’m not going to vote,” said an independent young friend, continuing “What’s the point? The President is chosen by the electoral college...”


Ignoring the truth of this statement, let’s ponder why the kids aren’t voting. Easier registration, more days to cast a ballot, internet voting are all being tried, with various success. But what if the trouble isn’t really the ease of voting as much as it is the responsibility and the difficulty of thinking through the issues?

And, in this election cycle, we have more information than any time in recent years. But what if too much information just muddies up the thinking? What if voters can’t figure out just what they stand for? Millennials are well-known independent thinkers, bringing their own ideas to the table whenever they can, but what if they can’t sort things out well enough to come to the table?

The state of the world and the union is confusing, to say the least. In the last election, voting declined in all age groups from 62.3% of eligible citizens voting in 2008 to an estimated 57.5% in 2012. Only 38% of voters aged 18-24 bothered to cast a ballot.

It’s hard to blame them. Voting, considered a civic duty in mom’s generation, has become a nuisance. Young culture, which is increasingly gadget-based, doesn’t encourage the skills necessary for making decisions. Those skills include discussion with friends, meeting with neighbors. For the keystroke generation, those skills are supremely difficult. These kids are independent.

Most of all, satisfying their needs doesn’t involve thinking long-term. If you doubt this statement, consider the impossibly huge amounts of debt they accumulate when going to college. Long-term thinking would tell them to pause their college careers, take some time to strategize, and perhaps put college off. Instead, they barrel along, spending money on classes that might not ever be useful. Some of them end up living with parents, but far more end up in permanent underemployment.

But these are exactly the educated kids who should be encouraged to get out and vote. Because they’re smart, no doubt about it, and elections affect their lives, and for years into the future.

My young non-voting friend in paragraph #1 was quickly corrected by another young friend who pointed out that, while the fix may be in for national elections, there are ever so many other issues to weigh in on. Friend A and Friend B agreed that fixing the environment, racism, gender equality, or the food system were mountains too big to imagine one politician could fix. In those cases, it will take work on many levels. Economic work. Social work. But some community goods — schools, libraries, roads and bridges — are supervised by humans on the local level. In Missouri, at least, managed by elected or politically appointed boards.

This seemed to carry some weight with friend A, who was still doubtful that her vote gave her a voice. “But, when you vote for someone, it’s like they work for you,” argued friend B. “You can go visit them or send them an e-mail if you’re interested in an issue.” In her case, she visits the capitol two or three times a year with lobby groups and sends e-mails even more often.

She understands these tasks as her civic duty, but there’s little publicity around civic duty. Politicians get plenty of air time, but the questions rarely cover why they’ve made the decisions they make. The media treats activists as folks in one bubble while politicians are in another. So, how did the politician make his/her decision to, say, go to war or vote for a certain subsidy? Was it because of a personal experience? Or did somebody get to them with a persuasive argument? Perhaps their decisions have to do with who gave money for their re-election campaign. Ewww.

Many times, issues aren’t well-covered by the media. I usually have to find a sample ballot on-line for my district, because most of our local media have disappeared. For the August election, I was shocked when I found out that there’s a question on the ballot about the ambulance district and whether the things they buy — vans, bandages, heart monitors and such — should be purchased locally or from the lowest bidder. If you believe as I do that economies are built from the bottom up — the smallest purchases being the base, this is a decision of the most important kind.

And, even when you get to the top of the ballot, and in 2016 this means the presidential election, there are clear differences that should help anyone decide. There is one nominee that will make policy that’s kinder to women and children. One that will help fix the health care insurance industry.

OK. Maybe there’s no clear decision, but we do what we can. And that’s the hardest part and probably the part that stops most young people from participating in the system. No perfect candidate. Well, kids, that’s life in the grown-up lane. Maybe you solve the problem by voting for a third party. I’ve never been able to vote for exactly my dream team, and this year may seem worse than ever, but somehow I’ll get to the polls and do something. Call it playing defense, but it’s better than letting someone else make the decisions.

And that should be enough reason for you to vote, dear independent one!

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2016

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