Last Friday, I wrote about the history of why the United States hold its elections on Tuesdays and how that helps explain what makes building a sustainable society so challenging. To recap: Tuesday voting all started back in 1845 when people rode horses and needed Monday as a travel day to get to the towns and cities to vote. My premise is that whether it be our system of voting or economics or energy or transportation, etc., some of the most unsustainable things we do may have made sense at one time, but they remain in place today for little reason other than complacency among the electorate and deliberate inaction by those in power who wish to maintain the status quo.
For a timely and infuriating reminder of how this combination of voter complacency and intentional abuse of power can combine to make a poorly designed system operate even less effectively, watch the report on early voting in Florida above and Ohio below. If you follow politics even a little bit, you'll likely know that Florida has been a mess for voting in the past few elections. Ohio is also one of the states with the most problems with voting and this year is no exception. That people have a hard time voting is a problem anywhere, but that both of these states are crucial swing states that can make the difference in who our next President is makes the problem that much more frustrating.
Rachel Maddow details the fact that voters are having to wait four, six, even eight hours to vote in counties across Florida. And this is just for early voting. In both Florida and Ohio, the problems with early voting are a direct result of decisions by the Republican leaders of those states to limit the opportunities for people to vote in advance of Tuesday's election.
Look at the lines of people waiting to vote. Look at the elderly standing there in the hot Florida sun. Think of what you'd do if you were waiting in that line. Think of what you'd do if you were hoping to vote on your way to work and were faced with leaving the line and not voting or being late to work and getting fired. Or if you'd just finished a 12 hour shift and wanted to vote before returning home to your family, only to face the daunting task of waiting six hours in line. Think of what you'd do if you had antsy children with you that couldn't stand to wait for so long in the elements. Think of what you would do if you saw your car being towed after you'd been waiting in line for two hours and your meter had run out. Or what you'd do if it was raining. Or snowing. Thankfully most of us don't have to vote like this, but put yourself in the shoes of those that do and you should be outraged this is allowed to happen.
If the goal of our voting system is to allow every citizen the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted, this, obviously, is not an effective system.
So why is it like this?
First of all, voters are not angry enough. That is the complacency I wrote about in my earlier post. Perhaps it is that it only happens once every four years, but there is not enough of a citizen outcry to change this broken system. With enough pressure, it could be improved to make voting more accessible and just.
And secondly, it is obvious that people in power, in these instances Republicans, are using their power to restrict voting to improve their chances of winning the Presidency. Don't believe me? That's fine. Believe whatever you'd like for why these people in power would be reducing the opportunities to vote, but there is no logical reason to limit early voting if your goal is to increase turnout. So these decisions to limit early voting is intended to reduce turnout, to limit democracy. I don't know about you, but that is infuriating to me.
In one of the videos above, Maddow makes a point I think can't be ignored. Maddow summarized what is really happening here: "This is not rocket science here, right. The more opportunities people have to vote and the easier it is to vote, the more people vote. The more people vote, both parties agree, the better it is for Democrats. That's all this is."
Think about it. If Republicans thought more people voting would help their candidates win, why wouldn't they want to expand voting? The reason Republicans are making it harder to vote is because they know they are losing the demographics and their ideas aren't winnable anymore.
This is what those of us devoted to building a sustainable society are up against. At every turn, there is someone that either doesn't care enough to make a change that would improve society or there is someone in power that intentionally wants to stop progress to maintain the status quo or push things in a direction that benefits their interests. That the environmental movement is attempting to implement new ways of doing things that would wrestle power and money from entrenched, but declining industries, like Big Oil or Big Ag, means that they will fight that much harder to hang onto the power they have. If we're ever going to make the large-scale, systemic changes to make a more sustainable world, we have to figure out how to rally the complacent citizens among us and discard our outdated ideas, all the while pushing back against those in power that want to hinder those changes. It won't be easy, but it's a fight we can't afford to lose.