A Conspiracy of Voters

Under The Hood


Perhaps it's an inevitable symptom of democracy. Whenever a close election, or even just a contentious one, reaches its inevitable conclusion, the malicious theories will start immediately. Even now, I still hear from people angry that the last Sarasota City Election fell prey to malicious forces colluding together to oust one politician in favor of others who would better serve their agenda. There’s no other explanation. There had to be a conspiracy.

And here’s the thing. There was. In fact, I can say with certainty that every elected official representing the region today got there only with the help of outside forces conspiring to influence the outcome of the contest and produce the result they and those close to them desired, with no regard for opponents’ competing agenda. I know this to be true because it’s the definition of democracy.

When we learn in school that democratic societies choose government leaders based on the will of the majority, it seems so pure and simple. It’s only when we see democracy in action that it will dawn upon us that the majority may not always include us. And it only seems less righteous as we realize the countless other ways the system can get gamed. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, special interests.

Yet it’s worth remembering that the system at the end of the day comes down to that same pure and simple measure our social studies teachers told us about. You can buy as many billboards and mailers as the print shop can make, elections get decided by a count of votes tallied, and, short of massive fraud, that count still delivers leadership responsive to the candidate with the broadest and most significant support.

Party bosses, developers, neighborhood leaders, social activists—all these groups get derided for influencing elections, but really, these are people trying to influence an election, but they have no true power to decide it. And every group suffers wins and losses. The cyclical nature of democracy should prove to us that no single group holds such a stranglehold on power that it can truly subvert the fickle but sactrosanct will of the masses.

A Congressional election earlier this week drew the attention of national media, and even inspired many local Democratic activists northward to try and flip a district long held in GOP hands. It didn’t work, and the Republican won by a little less than 10,000 votes. Now Democrats express concern gerrymandering made this race impossible (to be fair, this is a Southern district once represented by Newt Gingrich, not some maliciously twisted district intended to steal a seat from the other team). Had Democrats won, I’m sure Republicans would complain how $30 million in outside money had tainted results. In truth, voters came out and the Republican side narrowly won out. End of story.

But losing is hard, whether it’s watching your favorite team lose the Super Bowl in overtime or watching a politician representing your ideals downed by someone with a very different vision for the future. Democracy invests us personally in leaders, and we neither bow to an aristocracy nor write them off as a group disconnected from our own lives.

None of this is to suggest we should be unconcerned with campaign finance reform or fair districting or transparency in the donor class. But when you do lose an election, it’s imperative not to blame the other side but to listen to them, if only to figure out how their message could connect with so many even if it sounded venomous to you. And if you don’t believe the people made the right choice, know it's up to you to change their minds.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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