There’s my battle cry. It’s an election year, people, and the politics are going to be unavoidable no matter how hard you try to ignore it. The best thing for us to do as responsible citizens is to educate ourselves about the political field and use our votes wisely.
Voter turnout in America is absolutely effing dismal. During the last presidential election in 2008, I heard a lot about the candidates–but I heard as much if not more just telling me to vote, nevermind for whom. And even with the Rock the Vote movement, only about half of the voting-age population voted in the Presidential election, which is undoubtedly our country’s most high-profile election. The 2010 midterm, which led to the influx of filibustering Republicans, only managed a 37.8% turnout. But this is a long-standing trend; the last federal election in which more than 60% of the voting-age population voted was 1964.
Based on my experiences on the Internet and conversations with my friends and family, there seem to be a couple of common reasons why people don’t vote.
- They forget, miss the day, or don’t know where to vote. Other than the presidential election and sometimes the midterm federal election, voting days do not get advertized. If you’re not paying attention to your county or state website and looking for the date, you’re not going to find it. The logistics are the biggest hindrance, because Americans have this little tendency to get caught up in the minutia of their lives.
- They don’t follow politics because they don’t care and/or are frustrated with the political process. This is a big one, and part of me understands it. The system is definitely screwed up. Politics these days is more of a popularity contest than a public service, and it gets very, very old. But I’ve found that when you provide the resources, these people will typically make use of them. These aren’t the type of people who will go out and do research on their own; they’d rather talk to someone who has done the research, and hopefully that person tries to be as objective in relating facts as possible.
- They actively choose not to vote. These are the most frustrating to me. Their reason is usually something along the lines of “There aren’t any candidates I agree with/I don’t want to participate with a corrupt system.” I get it. I do. But just like politicians have to compromise with each other, we have to compromise with our politicians. I don’t agree on everything even with my closest friends; how can I expect the opinions of a total stranger to be totally in line with my own?
It is our responsibility as American citizens to vote. The Revolutionary War was fought so that we could vote. Prior to that, participating in government wasn’t an option for the majority of people. Now we have the option to make our sentiments known to our government.
I hear a lot of people respond to that with “my vote doesn’t matter/I’m just one person/etc.” That’s bullshit. The thing is, change doesn’t happen overnight. A candidate might not share all of my views, but if I continue to vote for the politician who is most in line with my views in each subsequent election, I am getting closer to that unrealistic goal of complete agreement. If everyone voted in every election for the politician who most represented their views, we might actually end up with representatives who are in tune with their constituents. There will always be outliers. I am still a moderate Democrat in a heavily conservative area; so even with all my pushing for more liberal politicians, it may never happen in my district. Guess what? That’s the democratic process. Does that mean I’m going to stop voting for the things and the people I agree with? No.
So for those of you in Pennsylvania: the primary is next Tuesday, April 24th, and it’s not just for the President. We’re also voting for a Senator, a Treasurer, an Auditor General, an Attorney General, a US Representative, and a State Representative–at least on my district’s ballot. These are the people who run our state more directly than the President, so these are the people you really ought to be voting for.
Pennsylvanians can use this website, votesPA, to find out how to vote, where to vote, and what you need to bring (remember, our new voter ID law requires a photo ID!). You should be able to find an electronic copy of the ballot on your county’s website, so you can see who is running for what (here’s the one for York County). Look them up. Find their website, search for news articles about them. Pick the one you agree with most, even if you only agree with them a little.
For my fellow York County voters, here’s a quick run-down of what I’ve read about our competing Democratic state candidates (again, some of these are specific to certain districts).
US Senator: Joseph Vodvarka is an everyman running for higher office. He’s running as a Democrat but is definitely more on the right side of centrist, supporting things like the 2nd Amendment, restoring manufacturing jobs and the free market (albeit with fair trade laws), not apologizing for America’s mistakes, and saying “Merry Christmas.” He opposes redistribution of wealth, government spending, and Obamacare. His opponent, Bob Casey, is a current US Senator for Pennsylvania. He supports the Affordable Care Act, renewable energy, and a firm but humanitarian foreign policy. More importantly (for me), he is a big supporter of women’s rights, including ending the pay gap and combating domestic and sexual violence.
US Representative: Harry Perkinson is an engineer running for Congress. He supports PAYGO controls on spending, the ACA, women’s right to choose, education reform, and term limits. He also believes in not making politics a career. His opponent is Ken Lee, an attorney who deals primarily in commercial litigation. He supports women’s and LGBT rights, closing tax loopholes, investment in infrastructure, education reform, and preserving the social safety net. These candidates are fairly similar; Lee seems to be more outspoken about social issues like equality and urban development.
PA Attorney General: Kathleen Kane‘s tagline is “A prosecutor, not a politician.” Her goals are to protect senior citizens from scams and abuse, preventing crime, ensuring equal protection under the law, and cracking down on public corruption. Patrick Murphy is a former soldier who is basically all about the same things as Kathleen Kane. For me, this will come down to a thorough reading of both candidate’s websites and a news search.
So follow those links, my friends, and try to give a shit; because it doesn’t matter how little you care about the government. It’s still going to affect your life.