Not feeling well today, not likely to be very productive. I don't think it's related to the voting thing.
Who does "rock the vote" help?All this "I want you to vote but I won't presume to tell you for whom" - I think that's problematic on many levels. First, if we hold "you will not educate yourself on issues" as a constant (which we should not, but thinking this way temporarily helps us think about emphasis), people who don't care to consider how their values and other judgement connects to voting should not vote because it does not serve to advance their values or their interests - a vote based on appearance or randomness is a useless vote, and increases the role of trivial factors compared to what democratic voting theoretically is about - relying on collective judgement and (possibly) directing dissent towards nonviolent attempts to shape public opinion ("you're angry? that's because of your own failing to convince enough people to agree with you - it's your own failt that the state sucks" - note that I don't agree with this sentiment, but I believe it to be an intuition encouraged by this system).
On the meta level, distant from the bulk of my values, I am comfortable telling people to educate themselves and use value-arithmetic, judgement, and tactics on top of that to decide how to vote. As an integrated being, I'd like to convince people, with the knowledge that I can only influence so many people (not enough to choose unlikely candidates as victors), I would rather McCain supporters stay home and people who are willing to vote to Obama turn out in large numbers. In neither framework will I tell people to "just vote".
I believe that "Rock the Vote" campaigns are not actually neutral though, not because their encouragement contains words that are biased, but because there is some serious selection bias going on. As a toy example, imagine if this country had only one huge city and a number of very small towns filling the rest of it, the city being very liberal and the towns being very conservative. A rock the vote campaign, no matter how neutrally phrased, were it located in the city would (statistically) help parties aligned with political liberalism. This toy example is in fact a drastic oversimplification of the United States - there are several strong correlations (not perfect correlations, of course) between how people vote here and all sorts of matters, matters that easily impact how likely they are to be affected by "rock the vote" efforts. Urban environments tend to vote democrat, suburbs are more variable, and rural environments tend to vote republican. High levels of education tend to produce democratic voters. Northern states, particularly those on or near the coast or the great lakes tend to vote democrat, while southern states tend to vote republican. And so on (there are plenty of other correlations that may be of interest). Location of these campaigns is thus a major factor, as is the means they reach the viewer (do rural people have less access to cable TV? tv in general? etc) - a neutral tool that happens to often land in the hands of one party is not necessarily neutral on a higher level (not that there are not parallel structures of various sorts, like church campaigning (which does not officially happen because of tax-exemptness regulation) and town hall meetings, that are more complicated). One thing the "rock the vote" campaigns probably do is help third parties, although this is not often enough a cause for change in American politics to be significant - without changes in electoral law, third parties will continue to effectively excluded from most political life.
In either case (although I'm saying this a bit late), people should stop saying "please vote" and pretend they're being noble by not telling you for whom. It's either treating people like idiots ("Oh? I should vote in ways that help best realise my values/interests? Really? Thanks!"), it's a bizarrely anti-meaning-in-politics push ("go there, flip a coin, and vote! That's the way democracy is supposed to be!"), or it's posing ("This is the most important election ever held on earth.. but I don't have an opinion on it. Help us out, mr awesome person!"). Well, there are probably other possibilities, but it's hard to imagine good reasons for that phrasing, and it's really really irritating.
On the other hand, I do have a bit of sympathy for people who are too timid to express their opinions but want to say something... provided they can admit to themself that that's what they're doing. Talking with family about politics and religion is sometimes very unpleasant, and expressing opinions on some forums with a mixed audience can be tricky.
For those interested, I voted:
- Barack Obama/Joseph Biden (D) for the head of the Executive Branch of the United States Government
- Mike Doyle (D) for House of Congress (14th District) - I actually regret this already - I didn't do enough research on his (Green Party) competitor Titus North. I knew that my foreign policy preferences were closer to Doyle's than North's (on which I based my vote), but looking at the rest of the issues, North probably would've been a better match... probably. Green party foreign policy tends to be ill-thought-out in general. It was interesting that no Republicans were running (although there probably would be little point)
- John Morganelli (D) for Attourney General - Neither really stood out, and for lack of a better reason, I went with Morganelli because of his party affiliation
- Robert McCord (D) for State Treasurer - His Republican competitor has some particularly problematic ideas (for one, he wants to get involved in Foreign Policy), and it would take very bizarre circumstances for me to even consider his Libertarian competitor (or any Libertarian in any public office)
- Chet Beiler (R) for Auditor General - My limited research suggests he's tougher on promoting openness and fighting corruption than his democratic competitor Jack Wagner. Both of them looked like reasonable candidates though.
- Jay Costa (D) for State Senator - Uncontested seat
- Dan Frankel (D) for State House - His (Green party) competitor was unqualified for politics, regrettably - I like (many of) her views
- There was an unexpected plebicite issue regarding funding of some sort of basic infrastructure which was totally unprepared for. I gave it a "yes".
As I was leaving the polling station, I was thinking it might be nice to have a printout of everyone I voted for (and for everyone to have the same), but it would be potentially undesirable in that it might open the possibility of outside people wanting to see those printouts and using various things-like-bribery to create consequences for certain votes (or directly buy them). If the latter were both culturally and legally verboten, I would probably prefer completely open voting in politics, but with these consequences in mind, perhaps it's best we have private ballots.
Postnote: I would guess that most people who bring a passport for identification (as I did) are, as a statistically independent factor of the other things I've mentioned above (think ANOVA or SVD), inclined towards political liberalism. It's sometimes amusing to try to fish around with all those correlations to come up with various profiles classifying parts of the electorate - trying to say more complex things like "people who are wealthy and educated but not business owners" tend to vote XXX, and similar. Trying to verify these things gets a bit fuzzy though, both because it becomes harder to get some of the data in statistically significant numbers and it's easy to stray off of the things that could be demonstrated given discrete data..
After voting, while on campus I saw an exhibit "Your Town, Inc." in the gallery. It was a mix of (relatively uninteresting) ad-hoc construction and some interesting photographs taken in small towns across the US that had Wall-Mart and similar set up shop, drive out local business, and then move out leaving large, ugly buildings - some of the things these towns did with the abandoned buildings were rather creative, and I thought for a moment that maybe the small towns got the better end of the deal... apart from three things:
- I've been in enough small towns to know that sometimes these towns can't afford to or are not inspired to or can't manage the paperwork to find uses for those buildings - often they end up as an unmaintained, empty mess
- It's not uncommon that these corporations can get public funds from the towns where they set up thanks to naïve small-town politicians - anything from tax amnesty to a budget paying for part of the building/development costs
- They still have the destruction of local business - a town hardware store or apothecary/chemist/drugstore might've been handed down a few generations, but once gone many never come back
A bizarre connection: while Wall-Mart never cares about the towns where it sets up shop and leads to these remnants, the Soviet Union, which (despite its inefficiency and occasional truly vile leaders) really did care about its people and having brought medicine, schools, and industry to the vast former Russian Empire (and sattelite nations) left a similar mess behind when it fell apart and the CIS/Russian Federation knew it would not be economical to provide such things to its people. If only travel in these areas were not prohibitive in cost, time, permits, and so many other ways, it'd be fascinating to tour them.