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 Sep 30 - Oct 6, 2010 
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Election 2010

Why Bother?

The point of voting

By Steven Robert Allen

How many elections have you participated in where your single vote decided the outcome? The answer is probably zero. Yet we have had a few ties here in New Mexico for local races in the past. Our state constitution requires that the outcome in such situations be decided by a game of chance.

To take one example, in 2008, Josie Richards and Michelle Dunlap, candidates for town trustee in Estancia had 81 votes each. They played a hand of five-card stud to settle the election. Richards won with a pair of nines to Dunlap’s ace high. I wished I’d been there for that one.

If you want to vote in the upcoming general election—and I know you do—you need to register by Tuesday, Oct. 5.

These cases are rare, of course. So why do we bother participating in elections at all?

In the early days of American democracy, the answer was easier. Candidates regularly handed out liquor and cash. In an 1890 New Hampshire Congressional race, citizens casting their ballots for a certain candidate were given a live pig.

Vote for Candidate X. Get a live pig. Simple.

The threat of violence was also once an effective tool for convincing people. Vote for Candidate X. Or get clubbed in the head. Equally simple.

The introduction of the secret ballot made these types of incentives much less effective. These days, we’re often left with vague arguments about voting as a civic duty. Such reasoning appeals to political dorks like me, but what about normal people? Why would they want to vote? Here are two good answers:

Voting for a winning candidate adds to that candidate’s legitimacy once she takes the reins of power. If only a small percentage of citizens show up at the polls, elected officials won’t have the mandate they need to lead effectively.

There's power in numbers. The act of voting is an expression of collective political power. By casting a vote, you're making a show of strength for your own political views, while at the same time undermining the kooky ideas of the opposition.

Seats up for grabs this year: governor, congressman, secretary of state, attorney general, sheriff, land commissioner and more. Read all about the candidates in the Alibi’s election guide, which hits the stands Thursday, Oct. 28.

Every vote helps strengthen our democracy to some small but significant degree because a functional republic requires active citizen participation. With that in mind, if you want to vote in the upcoming general election—and I know you do—you need to register by Tuesday, Oct. 5. For more details, read last week’s column. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. You can find out more at the site for a nonpartisan voter protection program called Count Every Vote New Mexico. The program’s voter information number is (866) OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).

Steven Robert Allen is a former Alibi editor and the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.
 
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