Voting is a form of communication; it closely resembles Saussure's concept of "sign" and can be compared to Brian Moon's ideas about the transmission model of communication but is a form in and of itself. Voting is a means of communication because your vote signifies a meaning to a government. This meaning is usually support or non-support for something. A vote may also show how you look at the world and its politics by who you vote for.

Saussure's concept of a sign can be applied to the system of voting. Saussure wrote about linguistic signs and mentioned that, "The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image." Voting is like the linguistic sign in that your vote itself takes the place of a sound-image. The concept that your vote represents (e.g. support and non-support) is the other part of the sign (963). Voting in an election is unlike Saussure's sign in that it is not spoken or written. It still gives the receiver of your vote a message but you used something (your vote) to represent your meaning. It is like giving one concept, the concept of voting, for another concept, who you are voting for. The modern system of voting is truly an unnatural means of communication. People must go into voting booths and push a button. Rather than hear the sound of a human voice, you hear the sound of a machine.

Voting is limited in how you say something, but when you vote, the vote is like a sign. If you understand what your vote means, your vote can represent your system of beliefs: for example, by voting liberal or conservative. If you do not have a good education and just think "x" politician is good because of some reason or other, your reason may be incorrect — you may be saying something contrary to what you really think is right.

Voting can also be applied to the transmission model of communication. In Moon's article on communication he wrote that "one way of thinking about communication says that it is a process that involves a sender, a message, a medium, and a receiver" (24). Moon goes on to write that "this model of communication (which we can call the 'transmission model') assumes that a message is passed from a sender, through a medium, to a receiver, or 'reader'" (24). This is usually true of voting. When someone votes, that person is a sender of a message. The message a vote sends is support for a candidate. The medium is the voting framework. The receiver of your message is the government (if you are voting in an election).

There are different types of communication: voting can be listed as a form of communication along with other forms such as books, images, and spoken words. Communication through voting is different than other forms of communication because the meaning of your vote is not usually contested on one level but it is on another. Moon wrote that communication is more complex than the transmission model because the sender of a message can mean one thing but "people often disagree about the meanings..." (24). This relates to voting because on one level, your vote always means support or non-support for someone, but on another, deeper level, it can mean many things such as what you believe is right or wrong. For example, a vote for Nader means simply that you support Nader but it could also be argued that you did not vote for Bush because you think corporate control of government is wrong. The media could debate endlessly why one politician lost and another won and what these votes show about American values.

Shaw wrote, "If the words used can possibly signify some other meaning than that intended, there will be a reader who will read it in that unintended way" (3). With a vote this is different — you might have several reasons for voting one way or another but the government who receives your meaning either understands that you support "x" candidate or "y" candidate. Two people who vote for the same person in an election might have completely different reasons for signifying the same thing. If you were voting for a politician, you might vote for "x" politician because you thought that person was “the better of two evils.” Someone else might vote for the same politician because that individual thinks that person will make good decisions for the people. So, voting is a very inaccurate form of communication because voting is collective. Masses of people go to vote and are all signifying the same result as others even though they may have different reasons to vote for an issue.

O.Z. White wrote that "A lot of wealthy folks in Texas think the schools are doing a sufficiently good job if the kids of poor folks learn enough to cast a vote – just not enough to cast it in their own self interest. They might think it fine if kids could write and speak – just not enough to speak in ways that make a dent in public policy" (Kozol, 261). When you vote for a politician you are showing your support for that person. That vote also means that you are in support of the policies of that particular politician. This is why education is so important to voting. When someone votes it is imperative that they understand the significance of their vote because a vote shows that you support someone and that person's values which they will try to turn into policy. An aspect of voting is the ability to communicate your support for someone that will really be able to help you. Someone can vote for a politician and that politician can support a whole spectrum of policies that are not in the voter's interest. To be a good voter and vote for someone who will support the right things for you, you have to have a good education.

People who are educated can better utilize the form of communication that is voting because they can better understand the issues. This is why it is in the interests of the elite to hold poor people back from voting effectively. The elite and the poor have conflicting interests. The rich elite makes policies that help itself which usually hurt the lower classes. That is why O.Z. White writes that the rich are perfectly happy to let the poor vote. Many times they do not vote "in their own self-interest" and therefore do not make a "dent in public policy" (Kozol, 261). White's overall point is that the rich people get to decide whether the poor get an education and they will not decide in favor of the poor because they want a “perpetuation of the disparities of power” (Kozol, 261). Voting pulls in all other forms of communication. To use the system of voting effectively you have to be educated and therefore, you must be able to effectively use many other forms of communication such as reading, writing, and speaking. All other forms of communication are closely tied to the form that is voting.

Voting as communication is a strange thing because your vote can mean many things but it is counted only as support for this or that. A vote just ends up as a number though it is personal to you in that a vote is like a symbol of your personal ideology. If you are not educated the vote is very false because you may be communicating something that you do not even understand.

Voting is a form of communication that has two levels. On one level it represents support or non-support. On that level the meaning of your vote is not contested. Voting also includes another level on which the reason for why an individual voted one way or another is contested. An individual could understand that a vote means that you support a politician but that person might not understand the secondary level of voting as communication. This is why education is so important to someone that is about to vote.

Voting is like other forms of communication in that your meaning is always contested. It is unlike other forms in that it always, on one level, means one thing that cannot be contested or debated over. If you freely vote for a politician it will always mean that you supported that person at that time, even though you may not have understood what that person supports.

Works Cited

De Saussure, Ferdinand. “From Course on General Linguistics.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities of Public Education. Created Equal. Ed. Benjamin De Mott. Harper Collins, 1996. 254-71

Moon, Brian. Literacy Terms: A Practical Glossary. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1999. Shaw, Dan. What Is a Word? New York, 24 June 2002

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