People don't vote because they don't believe it matters

The New Jersey Legislature recently proposed legislation that is supposedly designed to make it easier to vote.  It will change nothing, and in a year or so Trenton will be looking for other "solutions" to declining voter turnout. 

That's because they have bought into the lie that New Jersey is a representative democracy when, in fact, the elected members of the Legislature count for very little.  The average person understands this.  That is why they have given up on anything ever being done to lower property taxes.  They understand that taxes will only go up and jobs will continue to be tougher to come by.  Things are never going to get better -- and so they don't vote.

Let's say you are an idealistic citizen who wants to do something to improve your community.  You decide to run for the Legislature.  The first thing you have to do is talk with your local party boss, because most of the county party organizations, Democrat and Republican alike, have something called "a line".  It's a thumb on the scale that is actually part of the official legal ballot -- explaining who among the primary candidates has been approved by the party organization. It's done so all the party insiders -- those who depend on government for their living -- know who to vote for.  It wouldn't pass muster in any third world election run by the United Nations, but it's how things are done in New Jersey.

With party bosses, don't think Republican = conservative and Democrat = liberal.  Many party bosses are lobbyists who get paid by clients to push legislation that doesn't always fit their party's ideology.  Others lobby at the county and local level and many are government vendors.  Most of the nationally-connected ideological groups are controlled locally by a party boss. 

This is why you have Democrat Party bosses lobbying for Wall Street bankers and Republican Party bosses lobbying for same-sex marriage.  It's why the NJGOP has never formally endorsed the National Republican Platform.  Because without principles, a party boss can work for whoever pays.

So you've managed to get the backing of your party boss.  He's raised you some money and you have the "line".  You win the primary, and because most of the state's legislative districts are gerrymandered to be either Democrat or Republican, you win the General Election too. 

Congratulations, you are now a member of the Legislature.  Now you are going to do big things, right?

Wrong.  The party bosses have chosen the Assembly Speaker and the Senate President and they control all the legislation that comes to a vote.  A few legislators are also party bosses -- but if you are just a legislator, you don't count for much.  This isn't Congress or other America legislatures -- there is no such thing as a discharge petition to bring  votes to the floor that leadership doesn't want.  You had better practice asking "please" and maybe you will get a bill posted (but more likely they will take it away from you and hand it to one of their friends).

You can't get an idea debated and voted on, so how about stopping something?  You can try, but remember that the legislative leaders of both parties control special PACs that allow them to raise ten times the amount you can raise from a single source.  They can spend an unlimited amount against you should you get out of line.  They also can take away your committee assignments and even block you from traveling outside the state.  And if you complain to the ethics panel about it -- well they control that too.

But let's say you do get something passed.  The bosses still have the Courts -- the failsafe of the establishment -- unelected, each and every judge proposed and appointed by politicians.  They will simply overturn what the Legislature does.  They don't care.  In New Jersey the Judiciary represents the people who put them there.

New Jersey is a kleptocracy structured to appear like a representative democracy.  The people understand this and don't take part in the political process because they feel it doesn't matter.  Until New Jersey makes up its mind to enact real reforms, that won't change.  People will vote when they know in their hearts that the process is open, fair, and democratic.  Then it will matter


Dr. Murray Sabrin, a libertarian author and lecturer, is professor of finance in the Anisfield School of Business, Ramapo College of New Jersey.