|Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY)|
1. Candidates Don't Get It When You Don't Vote
The thing that I think instantly bothered me about Muhammad's statement was years of following elections, and realizing that candidates don't get it when you don't come out and vote, especially if you're further to the left or further to the right. The assumption is always that the candidates or party should have moderated their tone more to appeal to the critical moderate/independent voters. If you're a fervent activist, it's going to be assumed that you will vote, and even if you don't it's hard to tell why you didn't vote. This is particularly an issue for the Black Lives Matter movement, fairly or unfairly, because they are part of another demographic, one that is statistically less likely to vote: the young. African-American turnout, particularly under President Obama, has actually increased to the point where the only other ethnicity in the country that votes with higher percentages are 'White/Non-Hispanic' voters, and even that's a pretty close gap. Meanwhile, the youth vote stays home regularly. If Black Lives Matter stays out of the election, many may assume that it's simply part of the youth vote staying home.
It's also worth noting that making a habit of staying home is bad for your issues. Candidates, particularly successful candidates, are going to placate first to the people who got them there and what is important to them. Their office may be to serve all of their citizens, but the reality is that they know who actually voted to get them into office and whine they can count upon, and you risk becoming someone that wasn't necessary if you don't vote and they still win. There is most definitely a better option to have your voice heard earlier in the process to send a message of how important you are to a specific candidate and their election chances, and it happens before the general.
2. Primaries Matter
|Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)|
This actually works, and it doesn't risk you losing a powerful voice when the going gets tight in a general and the stakes are considerably higher. Look at this year, where Hillary Clinton's platform and rhetoric sure has gotten a lot more economically progressive, something that Bernie Sanders and his supporters have caused. Clinton is now on-the-record on a host of issues that are important to the economically liberal, something that they can cash in later when they point out she made campaign promises, and it's something that she'll have to stand-by or be thought a flip-flopper. The same thing happened in 2012 with Mitt Romney when the Right decided to consider people like Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, and Romney got the message that he needed to appease the conservatives before he got a chance at the general election. Mitt Romney had a far more conservative tone going into the general election as a result of this, and was far different than when he ran for governor or the Senate.
3. Pragmatism is Underrated, but Critical
|Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)|
Plus, you never know when that vote is going to be for someone who wants to back your view, but needs the public to be more on his or her side. The reality is that no one is really Mr. Smith going to Washington anymore (to be honest, no one ever really was-that was just an invention of Frank Capra). Take a look at another hot topic issue like gay marriage, arguably the most successful movement of the past ten years in terms of swiftness and results. A Democrat voting in North Dakota in 2012 who had their partisan blinders on may not have been able to tell the difference between Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg on the issue, and using Farajii Muhammad's logic, may have just sat out the election. However, looking at their rhetoric on the issue and some of their other stances surrounding the issue, it was obvious that A) Heitkamp was the more likely of the two to eventually change her mind if she could get a little more leeway from public opinion and B) Heitkamp was certainly going to be more supportive of other gay-rights issues like ENDA. This ended up being the case-Heitkamp came out in favor of gay marriage soon after the election, and was part of the cascade of Democratic senators who likely helped push the Supreme Court to back gay marriage. Sitting out that election, which was insanely close, would have cost gay marriage-activists a voice in the Senate on their issue. Sometimes you have to show that there is more than one issue on the ballot, and realize sitting out the election means you don't care about any of them.
4. You Never Know What Will Be the "Close One"
Heitkamp's a good example here, because her election was decided by less than 3000 votes. While her election was expected to be close, no one thought it would be that close (and quite frankly, no one really thought Heitkamp had a shot). This shows that votes matter. People frequently say "one vote doesn't make a difference," and technically they are right as extraordinarily few elections are decided by a single vote. However, the number of people who say "one vote doesn't matter" almost certainly adds up to enough votes in close elections to sway the outcome, but the problem is you never know when you're about to cast a ballot in an election that will be that close.
In 2008, for example, I wasn't wild about Al Franken. I was tired of Minnesota having celebrity politicians, and I didn't like that we had gone to that well as a Democratic Party rather than picking a known-quantity politician who hadn't published racy stories in Playboy. However, I agreed with Franken on more issues than Norm Coleman, and so I decided I needed to go out and mark my ballot for him, and so I did. Franken's election was always assumed to be close, but no one in their right mind thought that 312 votes were what would get him into the Senate. Democrats like me, who quite frankly could have just skipped that spot on the ballot and gone in and voted for Obama, were what tipped that election to Franken (because by that margin, everyone who voted for Franken for whatever reason tipped that election). Chris Gregoire in 2004, Maria Cantwell in 2000, and of course George W. Bush in Florida in 2000 won by a hair's breadth, enough so that a group of politically-charged voters surely would have mattered.
5. Elections Have Consequences Whether You Vote or Not
|President George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore|
This also proves you don't know when your election will count the most. When people voted in 2000, they were thinking about the economy, but they probably weren't casting their ballots (or not casting them) realizing that they were keeping the Supreme Court conservative for another generation. When Republicans missed the polls in 2008 for Norm Coleman, I suspect they didn't know they were basically guaranteeing Obamacare indefinitely (Franken's vote ensured that the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority, something they required in order to get the law enacted). And no one would have assumed that by having Maria Cantwell win in 2000 by less than a hundredth of a percentage point that a few months later the Democrats would control the Senate thanks to a party switch. You don't know what you're entirely voting on when you cast a ballot today, next Spring, or next November. You can know where your candidate will stand on issues, and you have to make an educated guess based on that. But not voting is never the solution-you can't complain if you don't vote, goes the cliche, but you also shouldn't be able to look yourself in the mirror without knowing what a difference you would have made had you voted. Elections have consequences-be part of that, and make your voice heard, and NEVER sit out an election.