By Jeff Rutherford
Remember the election of 2000, with Florida’s famous “hanging chads”? I know a guy at work named Chad who’s had the nickname “Hanging Chad” ever since. When someone calls him that, he sheepishly grins…but subconsciously swaggers like John Wayne.
Of course, the context of “hanging chad” in the fall of 2000 was the embattled ballot results in Florida — razor-thin (0.009%) in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore. The dispute came down to an intense court battle over, among other things, whether to count a vote on a punch card ballot whose “chad” did not fully detach.
Federal legislation in 2002 set new voting equipment standards and funded states to discontinue punch card machines. (Sorry Chad, but your reputation has withered.)
Figuratively speaking, when you vote, do all your chads hang to the same side? In other words, do you vote a straight Party ticket, or do you mix your votes ignoring the candidates’ Party affiliations?
In this article, I’d like to discuss some factors that may affect your thinking on this.
Establish your political anchor point…
There are many issues voters feel strongly about. We expect candidates to disclose their position on each major issue. Examples abound, including gun control, abortion, tax policy, military strength, foreign policy, worker unionization, energy policy, budget discipline, education, gay rights, environmental protection…these are only the tip of the iceberg of major issues that energize voters.
If you’re here reading this, you likely have an opinion on most major issues — some soft, some emphatic. If not, I dare say you need to get off the fence, research them and take a position. Also learn where the candidates on your ballot stand. Same with the major political Parties – where do they formally stand on the issues?
…and then determine how you’ll vote
The pragmatic next step is to figure out which candidates and which Party align best with your beliefs.
You would be a very rare voter if your positions align 100% perfectly with one candidate or one of the major political Parties. So you’re certainly going to be faced with making tradeoffs based on your priorities.
But watch out! Politicians aren’t individuals…they’re kinda like the Verizon Network. Here’s why.
Keep some high school Civics Class basics in mind
There are some quirky details about how the government gears turn that you should bear in mind to get the most benefit from your vote.
Executive branch: U.S. Presidents and state Governors carry out their ideological agendas via their
- cabinet member nominations;
- agency staff appointments;
- budget policies;
- judicial nominations;
- foreign or regional policies;
- signed or vetoed legislation; and
- influence of voters’ opinions through public persuasion.
Legislative branch: U.S. and state Senators and Representatives carry out their ideological agendas through their
- confirmation of judges, cabinet members, and agency heads;
- committee and subcommittee legislation development;
- treaty votes;
- committee votes to promote legislation out of committee; and
- final up or down votes on bills in the general assembly.
It’s critical for you to understand that these Executive and Legislative politicians aren’t solo performers. They are very likely to act in close harmony with their Party’s vision and positions on particular issues. Arms are twisted. They won’t think twice about breaking campaign promises once in office if those promises weren’t in concert with their Party’s platform.
In addition, there is a VERY important fact about the Legislative branch that many voters don’t realize. It affects virtually every aspect of American politics in some way:
Will your political goals be “sunflowers” or “mushrooms”?
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have rules about leadership and how daily business is handled. The majority Party controls what will be debated and voted upon, and how lengthy and fair the debate is. The majority Party elects someone to be the leader of that chamber — the Senate Majority Leader, and the Speaker of the House. That person wields the gavel, setting the agenda for what legislation comes to the floor for action. I can’t emphasize enough that this is a huge enabler for the majority Party. It assures their agenda is at center stage during the two-year session, and their views are not squelched.
The same rule also applies to chairpersons of committees and subcommittees – they are also exclusively members of the majority Party. All legislation that comes before the full Senate or House must first be introduced, debated, and voted on in committee. The Senate and House each have 21 committees. Examples of the more important committees are: Armed Services, Appropriations, Finance, Judiciary, Banking, Budget, Energy/Commerce, and Foreign Affairs. Committee chairmanships are powerful and highly coveted positions with tremendous influence.
Can you see it’s vitally important for your Party to gain and hold the majority? There is no more important single factor to care about than Party Majority.
When your Party is in majority, your goals will see plenty of sunlight. When it’s in minority, your goals will be kept in the dark under the political poop pile. Please see my article A Sports Fan’s Take on American Politics for additional perspective.
Like it or not, your vote carries side effects, due to the Party strings attached to the candidates you vote for. Doesn’t matter if you and I wish politicians would act independently for us when in office. Look, I wish I were taller and had a great outside jump shot and crossover dribble. SO WHAT.
You choose: Stand firmly on your personal principles and vote for individual candidates that mirror your image (ignoring their Party affiliation), but quite probably get less of what you want from government in the long run. Or study the political chessboard, see the patterns and pragmatics that influence how the intricate game is played, and
Pick Your Party, Not Your Politician.