Are Votes Still Free?
I hear a lot of talk about voter suppression these days, but the conversation is absent of perhaps the most obstructive opponent of free and fair elections: campaign finance. Money routinely keeps good candidates from entering elections, and relentlessly shapes voter thinking through greater public access. The 2020 federal election was the most expensive ever, with total spending across Congressional races nearing $7 billion, equating to: the cost of Medicaid for nearly 2 million people, Google's recent investment to create 10,000 new jobs in the U.S., and, perhaps most disturbingly, $68 per vote. In North Carolina, final estimates show that the Senate race cost around $294,000,000 - that's $28 per vote.
In the 2020 Senate race, it's also worth noting that Democrats outspent Republicans by nearly $100 million nationally. In North Carolina, Democrats spent nearly $37 million more on the election than their Republican counterparts. Fiscal responsibility is not a partisan issue, and all candidates should do their best to spend modestly, mind their metrics, and ensure a good return on investment.
Even more alarming, outside funding is accounting for an increasingly large portion of campaign finance. Did you know that lobbyists, PACs, and committees who don't even reside in your state are exerting outsized influence over your vote? In the 2020 Senate race for North Carolina, independent expenditures accounted for nearly 70% of total spending. The bulk of independent expenditures in North Carolina came from nationwide super PACs - political committees that may receive unlimited contributions for the purpose of financing political activities. Ambiguous PAC names also make it difficult for voters to identify where the money is coming from or what issues are endorsed by the PAC.
The best weapon voters have is education. Seek out information about candidates in the election. Look at campaign finance statistics provided by the Federal Election Committee. Challenge candidates on their platforms. But, above all, please remember that your vote is free of charge!