By Marc Ramsingh

Can you buy an election? Is our electoral process pay to win?

Whether it be gubernatorial, presidential, or for something as simple as student body president at the University of Louisville, this question is thought about every election cycle.  The more significant the stakes, the more money and resources individuals and certain groups are willing to put on the line so that their ideologies win. Let’s get one thing straight — buying votes is illegal in every form in the United States. However, it feels like there are ways around this, causing voters to question if their vote counts toward the cause they care so much about.

The cost of an election

According to Business Insider, the cost of an election (both federal and state) was in excess of $16.7 billion. This number includes the spending on candidates by political action committees (PACs), political candidates and parties, Super PACs, and other interested organizations.

The monetary cost of elections in the United States is exceptionally high compared to other Western countries. In the 2020 presidential election, total spending by political candidates, political parties, and outside groups reached an estimated $14 billion. Similarly, the 2016 presidential election saw an enormous amount of spending, an at-the-time record of $6.5 billion.

What both parties and ideologies are doing is throwing money at a situation and seeing what advertising sticks to voters to influence them at the polls. Essentially, it’s a flood of information drowning out the other potential candidates to win an election and sparing no cost in the process.

This is not just a trend with the United States, however: this is a trend with all democracies across the globe.

The 2019 United Kingdom general election cost an estimated £140 million ($190 million in 2019). Similarly, Canada spent an estimated 503 million CAD($400 million USD) on their 2019 federal election. This is to be expected though; the more a democracy grows the more consequential the elections are, hence the more parties are willing to spend for their ideal candidate to win an election.

The difference though is the United States has a special place in the world as a global leader. The presidential election and every other national election it holds has an extra magnitude of power and consequentialness on the world which likely explains the high costs.

Voters need to strike back

In short, while money alone cannot guarantee victory in an election, it undeniably plays a pivotal role in determining a candidate’s competitiveness.

The long version of the answer reveals that the impact of money on elections is multifaceted. Financial resources enable candidates to reach a wider audience through advertising, build a strong campaign infrastructure, and mobilize volunteers. They can conduct comprehensive polling and data analysis to refine their strategies.

Moreover, money helps establish credibility and attract endorsements, which, in turn, can sway voters. It provides the means to navigate the complex regulatory and logistical aspects of campaigning. While a well-funded campaign doesn’t guarantee victory, the lack of adequate funding can severely limit a candidate’s ability to connect with voters and compete effectively. In essence, money empowers candidates to amplify their message and engage in the democratic process, making it a vital factor in modern elections.

Finally, the most important ingredient of all in an election process is you — the voter. A party, candidate, or organization will attempt to move heaven and Earth so that you see their candidate in a certain light and paint their opponents in another.

What we must do as a voter base is conduct our own research and not solely rely on the money and power that these organizations are using to throw their candidates in your face. You as a voter control what you want to see of your community, of your state, and of your country.

Photo Courtesy // Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press