Who Would You Rather Brush Your Teeth With?

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Michael Saba

One of the basic rights in a democracy is the right to vote. Elections are a privilege, but a very expensive privilege. In fact, most democratic governmental entities which require elections also prohibit the “buying of votes.” Laws exist which state that nothing of value can be given in exchange for votes.

An example of this law exists in the state of Michigan and a complaint has recently been filed by the Michigan Republican Party against filmmaker Michael Moore for his alleged violation of the following Michigan statute: “A person shall not, either before, on, or after an election, for the person’s own benefit or on behalf of any other person, receive, agree or contract for valuable consideration for voting or agreeing to vote or inducing, or attempting to induce another to vote, at an election.” In other words as previously stated, you can’t buy votes.

According to the Republican complaint, in a speech, Moore had offered Michigan State coeds “Ramen noodles and underpants to students who promised the crowd that they will vote Nov. 2.” The complaint alleges that these noodles and undies, which are student staples by the way, are “valuable considerations” and, therefore, violate the law. And the Michigan Republicans were serious when they filed their complaint.

In reality, votes are paid for in most democratic elections, but usually in a different way from that cited in the Michigan Republican Party/Michael Moore issue. Surveys conducted in democratic nations often show that when people enter the voting booth, they are more influenced by the image of the candidate rather than the platform that he or she represents. Politicians have become “products” to be sold to the public. Would you rather brush your teeth with George Bush or John Kerry?

To that end, candidates, political parties and political advocacy groups in most democracies spend unlimited amounts of money to get their candidate elected. According to the American Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group, spending on US elections this year will total almost $4 billion, including $1.2 billion on the presidential election. Just how much money is that and how much are the candidates spending per vote received?

Almost half of the nations in the world have a Gross National Product, GNP (sum of all of the goods and services produced in a country in a year) of less than $4 billion a year. That includes countries like Zambia and Laos. Over 53 nations have a GNP of less than $1.2 billion a year. That group includes countries like Mauritania and Mongolia. Think about it. If we in America said money could no longer be used for funding a candidate’s election, we could use the money raised this year to fund almost half the world’s nations.

In 2000, about 50-55 percent of eligible American voters, voted for a president. The vote was split almost in half with Bush getting about 50 million votes and Gore about 50 million votes, but the majority. Bush, however, won on a 5-4 vote in the US Supreme Court. So if about 100 million people vote in this year’s election, with $1.2 billion spent, it will cost about $12 a vote. How does this compare to other elections?

For a start, Ralph Nader spent about $5 million in the 2000 election and received almost 3 million votes. This is a cost of about $1.70 a vote. In the 2002 Florida State election, the cost per vote to elect a governor was about $3.35. And in Latin America, based on direct government subsidies to parties, official statistics claim the average cost per vote is about 50 cents, although private spending allegedly greatly exceeds that amount. However, a story told about rural Brazil states that it is still common for candidates to pay for votes with shoes. The politician hands out one shoe for each vote. If he or she wins, the winning candidate supplies the mate.

Finally, another way of looking at the cost of elections is to calculate the cost per electoral vote. There are 528 electoral votes in an American presidential election. Therefore, the cost per electoral vote comes to over $2 million. And in the final analysis, we all pay. Let’s just hope that we make the right investment.


Published Monday, November 1st, 2004 - 04:42pm GMT
Michael Saba can be contacted at sabamps (at) aol.com

Article courtesy of Arab News
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