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Jess Coleman Headshot

What's Happened to Our Elections?

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Two weeks ago, I voted for president for the first time in my life. Contrary to what many pundits and columnists have been saying for months now, I was proud of and enthusiastic about the man I voted for. Still, when the results come in tomorrow, I will not be thinking about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, but instead the factors that make this election what I like to call the DUMB election. Here's why.

DISHONESTY Whether it was the false claims that President Obama wants to "cut" $716 billion from Medicare, or the assertion that he wanted to remove the work-requirement from welfare, or the argument that the Affordable Care Act is a "government takeover of health care," Romney has consistently bet against the intelligence of American voters.

In fact, altogether, according to Politifact, 41 percent of Romney's claims throughout this campaign have been mostly false or worse. To be clear, Obama wasn't much better, at 28 percent. Numbers aside, the most striking reality is that, every single time, both candidates got away with telling blatant lies. I will never ask politicians to tell the truth, but to everyone else, where is the outrage?

UNFAIRNESS As a resident of the great state of New York, I can count of one hand the amount of campaign ads I saw this election cycle. If I took a 10-hour drive west to Ohio, however, I would have been surrounded by hundreds of thousands of ads and tens of millions in campaign spending.

Couple that with the voter suppression efforts in Republican-controlled states, and you see not only an enormous sense of unfairness, but something even worse. Elections have become a battle of demographics -- how can we appeal to or suppress this group/state -- instead of a battle of message and vision. For what it's worth, I feel completely uninvolved in and, frankly, not represented in this election. After all, was the auto-bailout for the country or just for Ohio voters?

MONEY I can no longer keep up with the number of dollars being spent in this campaign, but I do know it is too high. Say what you want about Citizens United and all the legal jargon to go with it, but the role that money has played this election cycle has fundamentally warped what it means to run for president.

If money is speech, then why should some get to speak louder than others? Why has winning an election become more about raising money than developing a plan and a message? It's as if, come tomorrow night, total campaign spending will overtake electoral votes as the score-keeping measure. If that's the reality -- that money is now the most important factor in winning an election -- then we have much more to worry about than Sheldon Adelson and Super PACS.

BLINDNESS I've heard enough that this has been a "small" election, or that neither candidate has a plan, or that President Obama has no record to run on - I'm not quite sure what election these folks are watching. In fact, this is just as big an election as any other, and anyone who has followed this campaign can perfectly explain to you the vision each candidate has for the future. Sure, the specifics are unclear, but every voter knows quite well what America they are voting for when they choose either Romney or Obama.

And about this "no record to run on" junk. This is the president that conquered the century-long goal of providing health care to every single American; This is the President who promptly averted a second Great Depression and swiftly got us on the road to recovery; This is the President who doubled fuel efficiency standards and put pressure on states to overhaul their education systems. What President Obama has done in the past four years will be felt for decades to come, and that is no "small" thing.

Altogether, these factors get at a major theme: the corroding power behind a compelling message, and the emergence of cynicism as an effective and legitimate strategy. I fear that the winner of this election will do so not because of a vision or a philosophy, but instead because of an effective "strategy" that is, by its very nature, based on coercion and cynicism.

So by all means, cast your ballot tomorrow, because after all, some big issues are up for grabs. But still, when all is said and done, what truly matters will remain unsolved. That's why I think this whole thing is pretty dumb.