But I doubt there is outright fraud happening on a routine basis. There are simply too many competing interests and too much incompetence to believe that such a conspiracy theory could remain secret for very long. Given that, surely our voting efforts must be seeping in here and there, making changes in subtle ways. If one issue gets to be a big problem, it really can and does effect lawmakers' careers. In my State of California, we have a referendum system that makes use of the voter to an even greater degree. I've seen first hand the recent affect of voting in the Governors recall vote and in several ballot initiatives in the short time I've lived in the State. Add to that the closeness of the last two presidential elections and it seems our individuals votes really do effect things.
If this is so, even in some small way through the filter of corporate influence and two-party domination, then we have to keep trying. Over time, as corporate influence and two-party rule grows and people are more and more put off by it, then lawmakers can be voted in who will try to deal with the issue. It will be a slow and long-term process, and the problem may have to get much worse before it gets better, but American history has shown for over 200 years that changes for the better can and do happen in this democracy. As long as there is even a chance that voting can make a difference then we have to try.
The upcoming vote in Iraq is a good reminder. Here we see a people who have never known a real democracy. Their choice isn't even to elect legislators, but to elect those who will write a constitution. They know very little about any of the parties or candidates they'll be voting for and, with the political influence of the United States an uncertainty, no real guaranty of the efficacy of their vote. Whatever challenges and frustrations face our democracy in the United States, their political predicament is a thousand times more uncertain. This alone might discourage many an American from coming out to the polls, but add to that the fact that these people face the fear of death at the hands of terrorists for voting.
Regardless of what the turnout levels will be in Iraq this Sunday, all indications are that millions of people will risk the lives of themselves and their families to cast an uncertain vote in a system of questionable political influence. Why would they do this? It seems to me they do so for one reason - hope. A hope that springs from a desire to better themselves, to be more than they are, and to provide a better world for their children than the one they experienced - the same hope that lives in every human being. Even in the face of uncertainty, suspicion, and fear of death millions of them will act on hope alone this Sunday.
But when we don't bother voting and are asked why, we complain about a check some politician got from some corporation we don't like. Perhaps we complain about how the candidates aren't very different and we don't know anything about them. Meanwhile media attention goes to questions about boxers or briefs, soundbites of politicians making speaking flubs, and pundits outyelling one another in what amounts to little more than the Jerry Springer Show with a jacket and tie.
Yet these Iraqis are the same people who some here said weren't ready for democracy, or would never be able to handle democracy. One thing is for sure - in my next election I'm going to the polls rain or shine, and I'll be thinking of the heroic people who voted in Iraq this Sunday when I do.
Edit, January 30, 2005:
While it is still early, it seems that the elections have gone off rather well in Iraq. Preliminary turnout estimates seem solid and although there was violence (regrettable at any level), it was not to the enormous amount feared.
What was especially inspiring was a report by the Associated Press which mentioned the bravery of the Iraqi people in the face of terror...
Rumors of impending violence were rife. When an unexplained boom sounded near one Baghdad voting station, some women put their hands to their mouths and whispered prayers. Others continued walking calmly to the voting stations. Several shouted in unison: "We have no fear."