Sophie’s Choice

I just watched the movie referenced above this weekend, and if you haven’t seen it – especially if you’re a Meryl Streep fan – I would highly recommend it. True to its name, the title character, Sophie, makes a terrible choice and changes the course of her life forever. (I won’t spoil it but suffice it to say, it’s a doozy.

I feel that as a voter in the U.S., I am generally faced with the very difficult choice of trying to decide how to cast my vote. I’m a registered independent, but in the past I’ve consistently voted Democrat. I did so sometimes because I believed in the candidate or issue I was voting on – like Obama’s election and re-election, for example – but more often because I felt that I was, as the overused saying goes, choosing the lesser of two evils.

But what happens when the system itself is “evil” – or at least working poorly – and voting in fact may be an expression of my approval thereof? I heard something similar from Russell Brand, a British celebrity-turned-political activist who spoke in an interview with Jeremy Paxman about his belief that voting in a system that serves to consolidate the power of the few over the impotence over the many implies “tacit complicity” from its constituents. In the interview, Brand avers that the current system must be replaced by a new political structure in which the people of ostensibly democratic countries feel truly served and protected by their leaders (though he has no idea what such a system could look like).

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

I’m certainly not ready to take on anything like that daunting task, but I have one thought, a simple one that many others have suggested and one which showed up in the Green Party platform that I’m reading for class (along with the Republican and Democratic platforms as well – our professor is even-handed and believes in fair representation of all perspectives): abolish the electoral college. Such a move, the Green Party argues, would “guarantee the Presidency to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states,” rather than permit what happened in 2000, for example, when George W. Bush, in spite of losing the popular vote, won the electoral college and, thus, the presidency.

Now, in making such a basic suggestion, I am overlooking the fact that, for example, campaign spending reached $1.5 billion in the midterm elections, as well as the fact that Facebook tweaked voter turnout in 2012 by conducting a psychological experiment using a concept called “emotional contagion” which it leveraged to influence random users’ voting activities based on exposure to certain information. The playing field certainly is not level; media-based political influence, campaign finance reform, accountability and other issues certainly must be dealt with as well (which, incidentally, the Green Party accounts for in its platform). But starting with an easy target – the dismantling of the electoral college, a 200-year-old system in which the lower classes left voting decisions to the “most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each state” (see here for more historical information) – is a way for we, the people, to begin exploring new definitions of a dried-up democracy. Rather than make this about an impossible decision, it can start to be about changing the conversation to accommodate realities that have not come into being yet are long overdue. We still have power in our hands, and it seems that new conversations need to happen about how to use it.

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