by Hayden Lollis
As it pertains to our American democracy, nothing is more important than the right to vote. Our founding fathers fought for the right of suffrage and representation and through America’s history, minority groups such as African-Americans and women have had to fight in order to gain the right of suffrage and to be represented fairly.
This right of suffrage, a cornerstone to our democracy, has not seen its full potential, as the voting population only hasn’t had a turnout of over sixty-two percent in the past seven election cycles, and it’s even worse for midterm elections, where not even a majority of the electorate who turn out to vote.
This problem stems from voter apathy, which a direct result of our two party political system. This system discourages alternative ideas and solutions, something that this country desperately needs.
The discouragement of these alternative ideas creates a cycle in which those who cannot solve problems, whether they are Republican or Democrat, continue to stay in power.
For those who are unaware of what exactly a two party political system is, it is a system of government in which there are two main parties struggling for dominance.
Often these two parties become so powerful that they are able to exclude any other party from being able to enter the sphere of debate, making them the only two choices available. Naturally, there are benefits to only having two parties in power. One such benefit is the simplicity of the system, when provided with only two options (in the case of America, Democrats or Republicans) it is easy for voters to make their decision.
While the simplicity of this system may be appealing to many, this method of having only two broad choices means that if any voters fall outside of one of the two general groups then they are left with no choice for whom to vote.
According to Dr. Michael McDonald of the United States Elections Project at George Mason University, in every election (including midterm elections) since 2000 less the sixty-two percent of the overall voting population has turned out to vote.
The highest turnout rate was the 2008 Presidential election where sixty-one percent of the voting eligible population turned out to vote; the lowest was the 2002 Midterm elections, where thirty-nine percent of the population turned out to vote.
What the statistics show is that a significant portion of the electorate, sometimes a majority, does not vote in elections. For a society centered on the idea of democracy, this is a very dangerous occurrence.
Another benefit of the ideal two party system is that it promotes centrism, meaning that it encourages the coming together of both parties in compromises that avoid extremes and promote moderate legislation within government.
The current polarization and gridlock that has swept our Congress and left it stagnant proves that our current two party system isn’t becoming any more centered or moderate, rather we find the exact opposite.
The past two elections have served as perfect examples of the current polarization that has dug its way into our government, with both parties looking specifically to appeal to those of the electorate who feel most “conservative” or most “liberal” because it is they (along with some in the middle who get attracted to the huff and puff of politics) who turn out to vote.
With such a large portion of the electorate left out of politics, the general public is left with politicians and policies that they didn’t vote for or want to begin with, yet those same politicians continually stay in power, so the apathetic section of the electorate stay out of politics because they see it as an unchanging system.
I think that this apathy ought to make us rethink our system, as it is one of the most prevailing threats to our democracy. The two party political system as it has been instituted in the United States has succeeded in giving our society a functioning government thus far, but it is important for us to stay progressive as a society and when a problem arises we must rise to the occasion and solve it.
What is the alternative? Simply put, we need to involve non-traditional parties in our elections. Through various election laws and hundreds of millions of campaign dollars, the Democratic and Republican parties have kept third parties and their candidates out of politics for years, limiting the participants in order to keep themselves the only two options. By widening the scope of political views in the form of parties, we can involve more people in the political process and thereby have a government that not only accurately represents its people, but also one that can get things done. Involving more parties means that one party will not control an entirety of the government, but will be forced to compromise and form coalitions just to get into a place of power.
How can this be accomplished? To begin with: vote. Then encourage those around you to vote as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be the dreaded talk of politics, merely that we should do what we can to have the most people vote in every election.
Secondly, we need to be more informed as a public, especially on local issues. Local politics is an area where the voting in of a third party or completely independent candidate can bring in change that voters will be able to see first-hand.
The introduction of non-traditional parties and independent politicians at the local and state level will give more people a voice and encourage previously apathetic voters into the political arena, the result of which will be better representation and a more democratic system for all.