Ben Wright, from Prince Edward Island, now lives in Atlanta, Ga., where he has done web and social media work for the Atlanta Thrashers and Georgia Tech. This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
Some American voters are fed up with the traditional choice between Democrats and Republicans and will opt to vote for a “third-party” candidate on November 6. I envy them for having three choices – I’d settle for two, but even that’s too much to ask here in the suburbs of Atlanta.
Allow me to explain.
After living in Georgia for six years I applied for American citizenship in September of 2011. There were several factors that went into my decision, but one of the key drivers was that I wanted to be able to have a say in who represented my family in Washington and in the local government.
I was sworn in as a citizen in February of this year– too late to register for the state primary, but in time to register for the presidential election. Despite living in a predominantly Republican state and an even more Republican neighbourhood (based on the lawn signs of my neighbors), I was excited about being able to vote, even if my vote wasn’t going to have a significant impact.
And then my county registrar posted the list of positions and candidates I would be able to vote for.
Unlike the traditional “one election, one choice” Canadian ballot, my ballot features 16 races at the federal, state, and county level including president, state senator, congressional representative, state representative (the equivalent of an MLA), various county officials and judges.
Of the positions on my ballot 11 will be won by acclamation by either Republican or independent candidates. That leaves me with five positions for which there’s more than one candidate to choose from: president of the United States, U.S. Representative in Congress, county sheriff and two public service commissioners. Just four of those positions have Democratic candidates on the ballot.
In other words, there are 16 positions on my ballot and the party that currently controls the White House and the Senate is only fielding candidates for four of them.
There are those who argue that state politics have more impact on a person’s day-to-day life than federal politics do, but due to the lack of Democratic candidates I won’t have a say in who my representatives are in the state senate or the state legislature. Both positions will be filled by incumbent Republicans who have held their positions for eight and 10 years respectively.
When it comes down to it, there are two meaningful positions on my ballot– the president and my congressman. My vote won’t matter for either one.
Georgia hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Bill Clinton in 1992 and that’s not going to change this time around. John McCain won the state by a 5.2 per cent margin in 2008 and Mitt Romney will likely do better than that. My congressman, Republican Tom Price (whose wife Elizabeth happens to be from my home province of PEI), was elected in 2004 and faces a candidate who has never held public office at any level. Mr. Price will win in a landslide.
I still intend to cast a vote in this election – my first as an American citizen – but I’ll do so knowing that my ballot will make no difference in the outcomes of this election.
America likes to hold itself up as a model of democracy, but when there’s only one party on the ballot for the majority of positions in an election there are clearly flaws in the system. It has become very apparent that the system currently favours the status quo, and that change for the sake of change rarely happens. When state parties have limited resources to fund campaigns challengers are seen as poor investments, leaving incumbent candidates with the ability to serve as long as they desire unless they make a major misstep.
I feel privileged to be able to cast a ballot as an American, but I’m disappointed that I’ve become so disillusioned with the electoral process so quickly. There has to be a better way to ensure that citizens have legitimate choices at the polls.