Issues, not incumbency, should decide elections

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Is it becoming the case that voting, one of the essential freedoms that every qualified American should be able to enjoy, is beginning to back people into a corner? Recent election results suggest that factors unrelated to the views of a candidate are trumping what candidates actually say to the media and in debates. My main concern is that it is becoming the case where a multi-term incumbent candidate is almost assured of victory over anyone, regardless of the actions of either candidate in the lead-up to Election Day.

There are many recent election results that illustrate this point well, but I’d like to point out two in particular. The re-election of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) and the six-time re-election of U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D–Ohio) in my own district (Ohio’s 10th) are examples of elections that may have been swayed by some of these overarching factors.

Just a few weeks ago, Reid fought tooth and nail against Sharron Angle for his seat in the Senate. A Democratic Nevada Senator since 1986, debates about Reid’s re-election in the historically Republican state (Nevada voted for the Republican candidate in seven out of the last 10 presidential elections) eventually settled on the fact that he was a 24-year tenured Senator who brought millions of federal dollars into Nevada. Despite the fact that the state leans Republican, it returned Reid to the Senate basically because Nevada is suffering hardships from the latest economic collapse. Reid had been in the Senate for almost a quarter-century, earning him the Senate majority leader title as well as chairmanships throughout the years.

Kucinich is a different story, since I have been able to experience firsthand this aspect of voting. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, both of which he won by a wide majority, I strongly considered voting against him because I was not a fan of several of his actions during the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. It looked like he wasn’t paying much attention to Northeast Ohio, the district he was supposed to represent. However, both times I reconsidered after thinking of the potential repercussions that would come to the area if a freshman representative were elected in place of a 14-year veteran who has served on a wide range of committees and subcommittees.

But I wonder if this is the right attitude to take toward such a vitally important part of this country’s government process. Of course, wanting what is best for your district or state is certainly a valid reason to vote someone into office, but to encourage people to vote for someone so explicitly based on tenure is not something I can agree with. It feels like the electoral process has begun to fall into a kind of rut, with citizens in some sort of boring routine where the majority of people don’t actually make decisions on their own but merely vote for the most familiar face on the ballot. Men and women should not be chosen to lead this country based on such arbitrary criteria.