There Is Only One Issue Worth Voting on in 2016

Voting Hands and Ballot Box
Voting Hands and Ballot Box

**Crossposted at www.braintrustlive.com, where Lila co-hosts the Brain Trust Live podcast and blogs regularly about politics.**

Here's a bold declaration: Despite the rancor accompanying this year's races and last year's congressional session, there is only one issue worth voting on. It's a deceptively simple issue too; massively important, but, oddly, still one a vast majority of Americans agree on.

The issue? Campaign finance reform, and in this year of big ideas and big issues and movements and Twitter trolling, many of us will get a chance to meaningfully vote on it the first time in our lives. For millennials and beyond, Bernie Sanders offers a first opportunity to cast a ballot in favor of a major primary player who hasn't bought into the corporate funding system. Even if you think he's a grump of an elderly socialist with nothing else to officer, it's worth taking that option seriously because, whether you know it or not, your vote on campaign finance reform is ultimately the only one that counts.

We live with some hugely unpopular realities in the U.S., but chances are you don't waste much thought on why, for example Congress can't pass even minor pieces of gun control legislation despite our long history of grizzly mass shootings. You probably also don't spend time pondering why the best we can do in terms of health coverage is a national plan that puts millions of dollars of government money in the hands of for-profit private to insurance companies. You've likely never sat back and thought "why can't we regulate Wall Street so that negligence and greed doesn't periodically put our entire economy at risk?"

You're not lazy, you just already know the answer to all of these questions and the answer is corporate and lobbyist money in the pockets of your representatives, my representatives, strangers' representatives...all the representatives. This money is such a universal part of our electoral system that we don't even ask more of our candidates. Instead, voters are left to determine which candidates are supported by the least worst interests. When we have to think in terms of whether the banking lobby trumps the gun lobby or the health insurance lobby trumps the energy lobby, however, we've already lost. Every two years the Americans that bother to vote in the first place must cast their ballots in favor of policies they don't agree with and don't work in their favor in order to vote at all.

This is frustrating because of the mockery it makes of the democratic system, but it's especially frustrating since, back in June, the New York Times printed a poll showing near unanimous agreement on the need to change our electoral funding system. This isn't an exaggeration -- some people disagreed on the scope of the problem but 0% of them thought that everything was fine as-is. Americans don't reach those levels of unity on any other issue, including the question of comparatively small national importance such as whether snakes and tornadoes are scary.

Unsurprisingly, of course, a majority of those polled by the Times were also pessimistic about anything being done. Candidates can say anything they want about healthcare, education, or "believing in what's best in us," but their ability to deliver on any promises at all is severely hampered by the fact that they can't be as responsive to voters as they are to the money that pays for their publicity. Our lack of campaign finance reform is, in fact, why we can't even get any action on the issue of campaign finance reform.

As we close in on the bulk of the 2016 primaries we've been asked by candidates on both sides of the aisle to think about what we believe our responsibilities are as voters. Some candidates within the establishment are asking us to vote pragmatically considering the system we have. Other candidates, those challengers like Sanders who are experiencing huge and largely unprecedented surges in the polls, are asking us to think beyond the system and vote towards the system we wish we had.

It's understandable that many of us feel compelled to cut our losses and vote for the best version of the compromised system we know, but if we believe our job is to help decide on a pragmatic party strategy instead of representative party policies, then our opinions on the actual issues will never matter as much as those of the donor class and the flow of corporate money will never stop.

If, however, we believe our responsibility is to vote for the policies that actually represent our values, then the fact that our current system prevents us from finding candidates that represent these values should be unacceptable. Every issue that Democratic voters hold dear is impossible to act on meaningfully without campaign finance reform, and every stalemate plaguing the American congress is derived from it. Opportunities to vote in favor of fixing the system are few and far between, but we have an opportunity here. Let's not waste it.