Protest: Jonathan Meiburg of Loma and Shearwater on the Voting Choice He Most Regrets | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Protest: Jonathan Meiburg of Loma and Shearwater on the Voting Choice He Most Regrets

My Worst Vote: A Cautionary Tale

Nov 06, 2018 By Jonathan Meiburg Loma
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In the 2014 midterm elections just 37% of eligible voters turned out, making it the lowest midterm turnout in 70 years. After months of campaigning, the 2018 midterms are finally next Tuesday (November 6). For those who stand against President Trump, this is a crucial election (equally so for those who stand with him). It could be the most important midterm elections in a generation or more. To help motivate our American readers to get out to the voting booth today, we’ve asked some musicians to share words of encouragement. In this piece, Jonathan Meiburg of both Shearwater and Loma writes about the one election choice he once made that he sincerely regrets.

Loma is a new band consisting of Meiburg and the two members of Cross Record (Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski). They released their self-titled debut album back in February via Sub Pop. Meiburg met Cross Record when the duo opened for Shearwater in 2016. “I couldn’t believe all that sound was coming out of two people,” Meiburg said in a previous press release. “They were mesmerizing…. I fell in love with their music, and I wanted to know how they did it.”


The worst vote I ever cast was in 2000, in Texas. I’ve never forgotten it.

It was the year of Bush vs. Gore, which should have been an easy choice—Bush represented a swaggering, proto-Trumpian political machismo I distrusted and despised (and still do); and though I felt much better about Gore’s policies, I didn’t like him very much personally—he seemed phony, awkward and overconfident, and it was hard, at that level, to feel good about voting for him. So I was easy prey for a friend who suggested I instead vote for Ralph Nader as a protest vote, with the question “Wouldn’t you rather vote for something you believe in?” And I did.

But the truth was, I didn’t believe in Ralph Nader. I hardly knew anything about him, besides that he’d written a book about a dangerous car—and I sure didn’t know much about the Green Party, other than the fact that Patti Smith played at their rallies sometimes, that I liked the color green, and that I was (and am) worried about the effect that humans are having on our planet. I liked the thought of choosing “None of the Above”—saying “no” to the entire system, or so I thought.

In short, I was a dream come true for George W. Bush.

If I’d been paying more attention, I’d have noticed that Nader had refused to throw his support behind Gore in the last days of the election in a fit of pique, despite the fact that he had no chance of winning; that he lost sight of using the Greens’ minor but not insignificant leverage in key states to bend the Democratic Party towards its environmental priorities, and began to just try to wound it out of spite, letting the perfect become the enemy of the good-and, sure enough, the Greens’ vote margin ended up costing Gore a decisive victory in Florida. (Gore did ultimately win in Florida, but the Supreme Court refused to acknowledge the result in a 5-4 decision, handing the election to Bush.) I was driving my minivan to a show that night, with my amp and a keyboard on the back seat, and I can remember the sick, sinking feeling of hearing Florida called for Bush.

My vote was in Texas—Bush’s home state, and an inevitable win for him—so it didn’t effect the electoral totals. But it did affect the popular vote; and the fact the last digit of Gore’s national vote total would have been larger if I’d voted for him still haunts me. I firmly believe that if Gore had won, the United States wouldn’t have invaded Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11—a disastrous and cynical decision that cost hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of civilian lives, and whose consequences our country and planet will still be dealing for decades (if not centuries) to come.

My petulant protest vote, and all the others like it, weren’t worth that price.

Like Trump, Bush lost the popular vote but won an electoral victory; and I wonder how many people who voted for Nader in Florida—or elsewhere—fell for the same kind of myopic thinking that I did. I wonder how many Trump voters did the same, especially in Pennsylvania and Michigan—casting a vote out of protest, or a desire to spike the ball, without dreaming that their vote would suddenly, actually, matter.

So here’s the lesson I took from that terrible day in 2000: the ballot box isn’t the place to protest. That place is much further upstream—long before primary season. And our entire electoral system desperately needs reform. But the rules of the system we use in the U.S. right now—and right now means today—mean that by the time you’re facing the choice between two leading candidates, it’s too late to throw a tantrum. At that point, sometimes the best option you have is damage control.

One of the two is almost certainly worse. Vote for the other one.

Find your polling place here.

Read our 2018 interview with Loma.

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