Democracy and Elections

Make Your Primary Vote Mean Something

10 things to remember about voting in primary elections.
1. Virtually nobody votes in primaries (or caucuses) compared to general elections. Therefore, each individual primary vote is worth many times what it is in the general election. And, it's more likely to be counted, since there's typically less fraud and abuse of the system in primaries. So, if you vote in general elections, you pretty much have to vote in primaries in order to not be an idiot. Bring a few friends to vote too, and you're practically a genius.

2. If you have to join a party that you don't support in order to vote in a primary, you can always unjoin again immediately after the primary. In the meantime, maybe you'll have helped to create a party you can support. You can even vote in a primary without planning to vote in the general election. If the 50% of Americans who don't vote at all (or even a small fraction of them) voted in primaries, they would determine the candidates in the general elections, in which they might then choose to vote as well.

3. If there's no candidate you like in a primary, you can write one in. A relatively very small amount of organizing can even lead to a victory for that candidate. (Or some signature gathering could place your candidate's name on the ballot.)

4. If there is a good candidate on the ballot, then an extremely small amount of organizing can lead to a victory for that candidate. And something short of a victory can still mean some number of delegates for your candidate going to the party's convention from your state, or momentum for your candidate in future states. Primaries, unlike general elections, are not winner-take-all. (You can even become a delegate for your candidate and get a trip to a convention out of this.)

5. In most presidential elections, the party's nominee is decided before many states hold their primaries. So, for most people, the point of voting is not to choose the nominee. (And therefore almost nobody votes, opening the door to effective action by non-idiots.) The point is also not to "show support and loyalty" for a nominee already chosen (democracies have no need for such displays, which are best suited to another type of regime). Rather, the point is to elect as many delegates as possible for the candidate whose positions you most favor, so that those delegates can influence the party's platform and the nominee's positions at the convention, or even make your candidate the vice presidential nominee.

6. In early states, surprise underdog candidates can build momentum, and voting for such a candidate does not entail spoiling the primary for a mediocre candidate who you believe has a better chance of defeating the worst candidate. This is because it takes several states over a period of days or weeks for one candidate to lock down a victory. A surprising showing for an underdog candidate with dramatically distinct positions can put that candidate into the running in the minds of future voters, and can very quickly move the mediocre candidates to become better than mediocre, and therefore better able to compete in future states.

7. Swing voters almost do not exist. Fewer than 4% of voters in 2004 ever planned to vote for Kerry and switched to Bush or vice versa. So, appealing to one's own base and turning those people out to vote is key to winning the general election. Therefore, Democrats who want to win the general election, for example, should nominate the most Democratic, not the most Republican, candidate in the primaries. (Republicans already know this.)

8. Pre-primary corporate polls that purport to tell us who is most "viable" and "electable" are primarily a product of corporate media coverage and spin, much of which is "coverage" of the previous polls. The way to determine which candidate is most viable begins by canceling your newspaper subscriptions and recycling your television.

9. In a democracy, the most electable candidate is the candidate whom the most people actually like. The most reliable gauge available to any of us of whom people will like is whom we ourselves personally and honestly most like. Therefore, there can be no distinction between whom you like and whom you consider "viable." The candidate you most like, honestly, in your own considered private opinion, is the most viable candidate. And you can make that even more so if you lead by example. Don't just vote, but campaign, promote, and contribute, as much and as early as you can. "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men [and women], -- that is genius." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

10. The following are majority positions among Americans, and overwhelmingly majority positions among Democrats: end the occupation of Iraq, impeach the vice president, create single-payer not-for-profit universal health coverage, withdraw from corporate trade agreements like NAFTA, and slash the Pentagon budget in order to invest in diplomacy, foreign aid, education, jobs, and green energy. Only one presidential candidate supports this platform: Dennis Kucinich. Read the full version of this article here.
Read more of David Swanson at After Downing Street.
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