First, I wanted to announce that I now have a name for this little column here: "Fan the Flames." Obviously, it had to be something related to the Internet (and occasionally real life) nick name. It is also the name of a feminist bookstore in Columbus that I only went to once before it closed, but was pretty cool. Since I'm the lone woman here so far, and a feminist (who clearly needs to educate a few of you on just what that means), I thought it fairly appropriate.
But the definition of feminism will have to wait. For those of you in the United States, there's this little election thing happening on November 6. And, as usual, the typical complaints about our process surface. I am always amused by them, as they're easily dispatched with, with just a little common sense.
Probably the biggest one is "I don't know anything about the issues or people." As the Internet has grown, this reason becomes less and less plausible. Right now, I can go to congress.gov and find my representatives and senators and see what they have been up to. What bills have they written or sponsored? Have they voted yes or no? Don't know your representative or senator? There's a handy thing to look that up. The same thing exists for the Ohio General Assembly as well, and probably the one in your state.
"I don't have time to surf the Internet", you say. "Please," I say. You're spending time reading an Internet blog, and I see many of you posting on a few message boards I could name. We have time if we make time for what is important. And voting is important.
I am fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on the day) to live in the Swing States Of All Swing States, Ohio, which means we have a whole bunch of appearances and advertisements for each of the presidential candidates. "But the ads are misleading" you say. "Factcheck and Politifact" I say. They analyze campaign speeches, debates, and advertisements, so you know what's true, what isn't, and in the mean time, get a healthy education as to what they are even talking about.
Most Boards of Election have sample ballots on their websites with names, issues, and sometimes even the pros and cons of various issues. The local paper will have a voter's guide in it, as well. Merely watching the evening news and reading a paper or news magazine once in a while will give you plenty of information about where we are going and how we are got there. Is it perfect? No. But consider this.
There's no way for anyone to know everything about the candidates or issues.
Take the Middle East. (Someone, please.) We all have opinions as to what should be or could be done there. The simple truth though is that NO ONE knows all the information. People that live there have their view. Scholars and policy experts have theirs. The President gets information that no one else is privy to, so knows more than Romney, but still not all. Our information about candidates, issues, and anything else will ALWAYS be imperfect. If everyone waited until they knew ALL THE FACTS, then no one would ever vote, because no one would ever have them.
As I was writing this, I got an interesting point from the Facebook post of my friend, Ian Corrigan, in discussing why he votes by party, not by person. He says "I believe that it is a mistake to try to vote for the person, not the party, especially in statewide and national elections. First there is no way to use the existing data to form an accurate impression of the 'character' of the candidates. Secondly the character of the candidate will have little to nothing to do with what measures they propose and support."
When you look at the circus of media consultants and stylists the national campaigns employ, you will find that we have no idea who these people are. We know the version that their handlers in the party have packaged them to be to enhance their likeability or whatever other characteristics they think will get them votes. We don't know them. At all. We don't know their character at all, either.
Even though some may criticize single-issue voters, or those who vote party lines, or because a candidate shares some characteristic of theirs, are not really making the uneducated guesses we think they are. If I vote for someone just because they are female (which, incidentally, I have never done), I am assuming that she and I at least share a few issues in common. And social research would show I'd be right, or at least more right than if I chose someone at random. If I'm a fan of Jesus, traditional marriage, and think I pay too much in my taxes, I'd probably be okay voting a straight Republican ticket, even if there are a few of the folks on there with whom I'd disagree on a couple of things. If I'm a big fan of keeping abortions legal, voting for Democrats would be fine, even though there are pro-choice candidates on the Republican side. It's not perfect, but nothing is.
"Both parties are the same, there's no real choice, and I refuse to choose the lesser of two evils."
That does increase the likelihood that the greater evil wins, however you define that. Fortunately, there actually is a often a choice that doesn't involve Republicans or Democrats: You can write a candidate in. Or, if one is available, you can vote for a third party candidate. For the presidential election, that does effectively count as a "none of the above," given the stranglehold the parties have on the FEC. However, it's not without effect. Parties notice, and end up incorporating the values of the third parties into their platforms. So over time, the two major party platforms change. It does take a while though.
But ignore the presidency. No, really. Do. He doesn't represent the people. Don't believe me? Read Article II of The Constitution. He's the CEO, whose job it is to make sure the laws passed by the legislature (which is, incidentally, the very FIRST thing in the Constitution) are enforced and followed. It does mean he has to decide how much money gets placed towards those things, and he can put forward his own agenda for what should be included. But he's not the one really deciding what our money gets spent on. No, that is the job of the now 535 Members of Congress. The ones we DO elect directly. THOSE are the ones you should be paying attention to.
(That's one of the reasons why don't elect him directly anyway. At some point maybe I'll do a thing on the electoral college, but it won't be for a bit, this has a good summary
Thus, if you are not happy with the choices offered, you can skip the presidential race as a further "none of the above" option, and vote for US Senate and House. (Check your local election laws though, to make sure that skipping choices doesn't invalidate your ballot. And good grief get that repealed!) Third parties can and have been elected to both Houses, and have made their impacts felt there.
You know what impacts your pocket book way more than the federal government does? State, municipal, and local elections. They are right there in your community. That freeway expansion project that annoys your commute every morning? Those children who are graduating without knowing how to read? That's all tied to your local elections. And some of that comes in spring primaries and in off-term general elections.
Now, look out our voter turnout rates. It varies by state, but just scrolling down the Excel file, the voting eligible population (VEP) turn out rates are abysmal in a society that values participatory democracy as much as we claim we do. In the 2010 Midterm elections, it was 37.8 percent. The 2008 presidential election it was 56.9 percent. Not even two-thirds of the population could bother to show up for an election that was probably the most historic ever? Imagine if we had that, or 80 percent, or even 90? Would the election have turned out differently? How will we know? Forty-four percent of the population gave up their right to have their voice heard. What might that have meant to your state assembly, or your local school district?
My cousin has worked in for one the Ohio Democratic Party for as long as I can remember. In the election of Kennedy in 1960, she recalls that while Kennedy won the state, it was precinct by precinct. He won by single digits, sometimes by ONE VOTE in each precinct. That eventually added up.
Your vote matters. It matters nationally, as each single vote adds up to a whole bunch of votes. And it definitely matters locally. Do you want 20 percent of your city deciding where to put an casino? Remind me to tell you how that works out.
To stay home surrenders the ONE thing that Americans have historically had the ability to do since the beginning. At least the white males with land. But eventually that right did get extended to all, however not without a cost.
This is a photo of Helena Hill Weed. She stood outside the White House in the winter of 1917, and got arrested for something called "obstruction of traffic" to insist that women be given the right to vote. While in jail, she and her colleagues, American Citizens ,were beaten when they refused to plead guilty, declaring themselves political prisoners. Some went on hunger strikes and were force fed, and were submitted to psychological testing to be declared mentally ill.
Black men had technically had the vote since they were freed, and black women since the passage of the XIX Amendment. But many laws and practices kept them from doing so. In the early 1960s, blacks protested along side whites. Within 10 weeks of the "Freedom Summer" project of 1963, "four civil rights workers were killed, three Mississippi blacks were murdered because of their support, four people critically wounded, eighty Freedom Summer workers were beaten, 162 people were arrested, 37 churches were bombed or burned, and 30 black homes or businesses were bombed or burned" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Summer).
Suddenly "I don't want to have to get up early or stand in line" doesn't seem like such a good reason, does it?
To stay home negates the struggles of all those Americans who fought and sometimes died for the right to vote in this country.
It negates the sacrifices of OUR armed forces who fought and DIED so citizens of OTHER countries could secure their OWN right to vote. Like these.
If still photos don't do it for you, rent and watch "Iron Jawed Angels" about the women's suffragette movement or "Mississippi Burning" about Freedom Summer. They weren't too busy, or tired, or too whatever to stay home and NOT get arrested and beaten and burned and killed just for demanding this right. Watch video of Iraqi citizens risking suicide bombers just for the opportunity to hold up a purple stained finger in their first real election ever. They weren't too tired, or too busy, or too whatever to risk their lives for the opportunity to vote.
Yes. I feel strongly about this.
If that doesn't work, then how about you go vote to cancel mine out. I dare you.