Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Vote or Not to Vote

I've had two elections to vote in over the past two weeks. There was today's elections, naturally, and last week, an election about the Dartmouth Alumni Constitution. I voted in the former and not the latter.

As I voted today in the federal elections, I wondered why I'd been unable to motivate to actually cast my vote in the Dartmouth election despite the ballot sitting on my desk for close to two months. I realized it comes down to two key points:
  • My ability to perceive "what's best" for the country or institution.
  • My sense that my vote will actually effect change.
What's Best

With the federal election I have some sense of what I think is best. As much as I fault the two party system, it can reduce elections down to an easy set of choices. Align one's political, social or financial beliefs with the party that best suits you and vote that party. It doesn't require much advance research and some states make it even easier by along you to vote the "ticket" rather than selecting individual names. I know that while I may not like any particular candidate, I generally agree with their party's politics so the decision somehow feels safer.

In contrast, the Dartmouth election was confusing. Despite no fewer than 10 mailings I still really wasn't 100% certain what a vote for either side meant. But that wasn't the biggest reason for my uncertainty. In truth I don't personally know what I think is best for Dartmouth. I had the sense that the election was boiling down to the same two sides that every debate at Dartmouth did: the rich white frat boy old school group vs. the progressive multicultural intellectual new school group. Stodgy old guys who don't want things to change vs. new people who might to turn Dartmouth into something that alums don't recognize. I can boil it down to those two sides, but I don't know which side I support. I struggled with this during my time at Dartmouth and I still do. Part of what I loved about Dartmouth was the "old-schoolness", the frat parties, the tradition - but those same aspects also gave it the homogeneity and elitism that I'm not sure is such a good thing. All the efforts to intellectualize and diversify Dartmouth felt fake while I was there and more like an attempt to squash all my fun, but I can recognize that in reality they were just trying to fix some of the flaws. Part of me says "it was such a great place why change it?" but the other side says "I can't believe they still do that?" Essentially I have no sense of "what's best."

Effecting Change

My vote in New York City is basically meaningless. Not only were the candidates I voted for all leading or trailing by substantial margin, but I just have a sense (for better or worse) that any individual politician has little impact.

With Dartmouth though either vote seemed like a vote to change something. The margins were slim and I was worried that if I arbitrarily picked one side over the other, things might change that I'd actually regret.

In the end, I realize I probably should have made up my mind and voted in the Dartmouth election. Easier said than done, it seems.


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