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The spam started early this election year… I’ve even heard from my brother Mathew, and Aunt Kay (both stumping for The Other Guy). And then Glasstire wrote me, wanting to know why I vote.

Rock the Vote.


I. I VOTE FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS

The spam started early this election year… I’ve even heard from my brother Mathew, and Aunt Kay (both stumping for The Other Guy). And then Glasstire wrote me, wanting to know why I vote.

I vote for the same reason I contribute a few shekels to public television and radio. I should do more, I should know more. But I don’t, so on election day I do my part to assuage the guilt. I punch the chad.

Let me instruct you right up front: don’t be like me. Dig deep and stoke your inner fire for government, and for the process. Be heady with democracy. Don’t just show up at the polling center, bleary-eyed with bedhead, in shower shoes and an ironic t-shirt. Don’t be what the aging punk rock band Green Day calls an American Idiot. Don’t be me.

I made a list of reasons “why I vote.” I was unimpressed with the results:

1. NPR guilt (aforementioned).
2. Peer pressure: even if I didn’t, I’d still have to tell my friends I did.
3. Show of solidarity and support for My Candidate.*

*Applies only to those elections in which I feel that My Candidate is on the ballot. This is fair weather voting, like cheering when your team makes the playoffs.

Feeling a responsibility to Glasstire (and my country), I went looking for better reasons to vote. I did some research (I watched TV and asked around). I found that for the most part…

II. VOTING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS MUST NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY

When you poke around online or ask your “serious” friends why they vote, the list looks more like this one:

1. Bloodshed (people died for this right).
2. Civic duty, responsibility.
3. “Be an instrument for change.” (This is mostly from your serious liberal friends.)

That’s a more impressive list, for sure, but any To Do list that starts with “bloodshed” is also a bit of a downer.

On the website for the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, Peter van Dorsten takes off the gloves: “The jaded and cynical strike me as lazy and irresponsible. I think it is simple. If you are able to vote, you should do the due diligence required and cast your ballot. This is the absolute minimum required of each citizen …To not do at least the minimum means you have shirked your responsibility to your family, friends, and community.”

This is a common sentiment among high-minded advocates of participation, but not a great sales pitch. Mr. van Dorsten’s language makes voting sound a little like putting down this Big Mac and heading to the gym. Quit harshing my buzz, Pete.

III. A BIG GULP AND A SIDE OF DEMOCRACY (VOTING AS CONSUMER BEHAVIOR)

Maybe the democratic process is in need of a little sex appeal. A little nip/tuck. Maybe even a merchandising deal. Didn’t I read that MoveOn.org was giving people free stuff for voting? Or just for registering??

I found some stories about a voter registration partnership between the convenience store chain 7-Eleven and Sunkist soda. You register to vote right there in the store while enjoying your favorite beverage.

“Lazy and irresponsible?” I’m taking care of business at the Qwik-E Mart. Take that, Pete van Dorsten! Take that, “serious” friends!

Tony Jacobs, a vice president for Sunkist Soda, says, “We realized we had a landmark opportunity to empower consumers with a retail partner program, and 7-Eleven was the right retailer.” The Sunkist people talk a lot about “customer segments” and target demo market opportunities (industry jargon for “voters”) in the press release. It’s pretty empowering stuff.

But in the contest that named Fantasia Barrino a so-called American Idol earlier this year, more than 65 million votes were cast. Fantasia can make a pretty convincing argument that she is the real leader of the Free World. She got way more votes than the president, and she actually wears a crown.

I’ll confess that I find the entertainment industry sales pitch more appealing than the God and Country rhetoric. That said, although it sounds cool when P. Diddy says “Vote or Die,” I don’t know what he means. Vote all you want, you’re still gonna die. MTV tells me I can “choose or lose.” (Not sure I know what this means either. Depending on which poll you believe, I stand a good chance of choosing and losing.)

Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable force fit between voting and consumer culture. I’m sympathetic to the cause, but all the world’s celebrity endorsements won’t make the Blood Drive truck into the ice cream truck. The last time I gave blood, I fainted dead away and knocked out my front teeth. No kidding. Then I went out for ice cream.

IV. THE LAST LIST (I PROMISE)

Getting discouraged, I wrote down some obvious reasons for not voting:

1. Voting responsibly isn’t easy (enough).
2. Voting carelessly may backfire and actually inspire more guilt.
3. Voting’s not sexy. What’s in it for me?

Feeling a responsibility to Glasstire (and my country), originally I avoided writing down the real number one reason not to vote. But here it is, the elephant in the room:

1. My vote doesn’t count.

And I don’t mean that in the obvious, cynical way. I mean that academic economists have concluded that voting is economically irrational. Economists observe that voting is a time-consuming activity that has no meaningful payoff for the individual. Voting is more costly than beneficial, economists say. If voting were an orange soda, you wouldn’t buy it. So what’s up? Something other than self-interest must be driving this train.

REASON ENOUGH FOR ME TO VOTE (CALL ME SENTIMENTAL)

At the end of the day, I vote because I am a big old softy for my Uncle Sam, like so many conservatives and liberals are, in equal numbers. I recognize voting as a grand gesture. I like grand gestures. And when I think about the alternative, well…not voting seems intolerable to me.

As our culture and heritage are surely giving ground to this Sunkist land of Golden Arches, I sense that participating in something, at least periodically and regularly, becomes more important. In some way, voting is the contrarian position, a small personal resistance against complacency, apathy and Would You Like Fries With That?

Voting is onerous, time-consuming, inconvenient, and not very practical. In the words of a sage young actress seen recently on MTV, voting is “like, the coolest privilege…but also like a huge responsibility, too.”

True enough.

Eric Garland is the Co-Founder of BigChampagne, a market research firm specializing in peer-to-peer (P2P) technology.

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