Voting valued when with person who can’t

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 8, 2013

Column: Things I Tell My Wife, by Matthew Knutson

“They still haven’t elected a president,” I told my wife, talking about the Madagascar elections. After the elections were postponed three times, the country finally went to the polls on Oct. 25. They’re still counting ballots in this first election since a military-backed coup took control of the country several years ago.

My wife, a citizen of Madagascar, seemed unsurprised. She’s been following the country’s struggles certainly longer than we’ve been together. Her detached response didn’t come from a lack of love for her home country, but rather years of disappointment in her country’s leadership.

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With the government shutdown in America’s recent history, I know I’m not the only one disappointed in our government here.

Comedian Russell Brand recently sat down with BBC’s “Newsnight” for an interview that’s been watched over 9 million times on YouTube. In the interview he suggested voting is worthless because the systems in place don’t represent the people properly, but rather lend themselves to corporate and economic exploitation.

“So you can well understand public disturbances and public dissatisfaction when there are not genuine changes and genuine alternatives being offered,” Brand said. “I say when there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that. Until then, don’t bother. Why pretend? Why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”

Like many, I understand his frustrations, but I still believe voting can make a difference, especially on the local level.

When I visited the polls on Tuesday, I was met by two charming old ladies who frankly were excited to see a young person voting. Perhaps it was because there was no major race on my ballot, or maybe it was because I was voting later in the evening, but I had the whole polling place to myself. The highest number of votes any candidate received that night was 281. In a town of roughly 4,000, that was a startling low number for me to read.

Before the election I sought out information on the candidates and came up dry. Local media were apparently uninterested in informing the public except by providing me with a polling location.

It only took about five minutes to vote from start to finish. I’ve always felt it was important to vote, but ever since marrying someone who doesn’t have that right yet, it seemed essential to take part in the election process. I’m sure Brand wasn’t talking about the parks and rec board in Forest City, Iowa, in his interview, so why didn’t my community feel the need to choose their representation? I honestly don’t know.

Sera wasn’t even able to vote in her own Madagascar election. We tried searching online to for an absentee process established by the country of Madagascar, but we found nothing that was relevant. The odds of her vote being counted was up for question anyway. Knowing your vote counts and makes a difference here in America, even a slight difference within an at-times ill-serving system, is comforting to me.

I doubt my city council will change the world, but by taking part in their election process, at least I now feel more represented by them. America was founded on a principle that the people deserved representation, and it seems all too often that we abandon that concept due to apathy.

At one time in our country, had my wife been a citizen, she would have been unable to vote because she was a woman. On top of that, my non-white wife would have still been barred from voting due to her skin color. Thankfully the only thing preventing her from voting here on Tuesday was her citizenship.

Those examples in themselves prove that voting for someone who represents you does make a difference. There were most certainly people not in favor of either of those voting laws being passed.

While Madagascar is still counting ballots, I already know the winners and losers of my local election. The process is likely never perfect, yet I am thankful to live in a country where change is possible, even if it means voting through placeholder politicians until a genuine alternative comes around.


Matthew Knutson is a marketing specialist at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. Find him online at