I am a politics person. I find politics fascinating and infuriating and enthralling. I always have. I remember making impassioned arguments for my political stances in the first grade—heck, I almost got my mom kicked out of her polling place because I could not contain my desire to advocate for my candidate of choice. I was eight. I was so excited that my eighteenth birthday fell just before the registration deadline in my state and that I could vote in the presidential election. I am that person that will re-watch The West Wing over and over again and be every bit as excited about the crafting of policy as I am about the characters. I livestream C-SPAN—not all the time, but it’s not exactly an unusual occurrence—and I have the home page for the state legislature bookmarked on my computer, so the audio from the House and Senate chambers are only a click away.
I understand that these things make me a bit of an odd duck; I know that most folks don’t even have the tiniest desire to get into it like I do, and that is totally okay. I am not here to sell you on my nerdy passion for day-to-day, nitty-gritty politics. I am here to talk to you about voting. I know it feels like this election cycle has gone on forever: as stoked as I get about politics, even I am so beyond ready for this election season to be done. It has been exhausting. That said, it’s not over and now is the time for us to rally our energies for this last push to November 8th, which means we need to make sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row or, at least, in the same general vicinity. Specifically, it’s time to make sure that when Election Day rolls around, each of us has jumped through the hoops necessary to make our voices heard at the ballot box.
First and foremost, are you registered to vote? Seriously, click on the link, enter your information, and see if you’re registered. Even if you’re pretty sure you’re registered, I encourage you to check it out anyway: state and local officials are supposed to maintain accurate lists of eligible, registered voters but, in some places, the process is a bit shady and registered voters can go to vote on Election Day only to find that their name is no longer on the list.
If you are registered and everything looks groovy, high five! If you’re not registered, let’s fix that! Now, the deadline for registering varies from ten to thirty days prior to election day depending on your state. Luckily, this year’s National Voter Registration Day falls twelve days before the earliest deadline; so, what better time than now? You could check out your local library or post office, which usually have voter registration forms on hand. You could also check and see if there are any voter registration drives going on near you—I found out that Ben & Jerry’s is running a registration drive here on a local college campus and they’re giving out free scoops of ice cream! Sweet! You could go to your state’s website, dig for a link to the agency that oversees elections in your state, and track down how to register to vote. Or you could go to vote.usa.gov, www.rockthevote.com, savetheday.vote—each of which will direct you to the appropriate information and forms for your state. I’ll admit that I am pretty partial to Save the Day right now, because, boy howdy! What an incentive!
Contains NSFW language:
Now that you’re registered or, at least, well on your way to being registered, please make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position because we’re about to get into the good stuff! I know that the media has spent the last year and half focusing on the presidential election, so I will keep what I have to say brief on that topic. I’m not going to try to tell you who to vote for, but I do want to take the time to remind everyone that the vast majority of states have what’s called a “first past the post” election system in terms of the popular vote: in first past the post elections, winners take all in a simple majority. First past the post systems virtually guarantees a two-party system and, while I know many of us would appreciate having more choices, it is not something that will change overnight. The two major party nominees are the only truly viable candidates by virtue of how our system is structured. I hope that in the future we can reform our election system so that we are not perpetually stuck with only two viable parties that may not represent the politics of voters with any real accuracy. Also, please remember it is not actually the popular vote that determines the winner of a presidential election: the Electoral College is responsible for casting the votes that ultimately award the presidency and it is possible for the winner of the Electoral College vote to not be the person who won the popular vote.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about down-ballot races. I know the presidency is important but, in terms of the more immediate, day-to-day policies that impact our lives as citizens, the down-ballot races are where it’s at! The problem, most often, is that the down-ballot races don’t get nearly the coverage that the presidential race does, so unless you’re a devoted reader of your local paper or very diligent in your political homework, a lot of folks just don’t know a lot about the candidates in those races. There are thirty-four U.S. Senate seats, the whole U.S. House of Representatives, twelve governor seats, and boatloads of state and local offices up for election this November. That means there are a lot of candidates to research and I know a lot of folks’ lives are just too damn hectic already to take on that kind of homework. That said, there is a site that makes it easier: ballotpedia.org. On the very front page, you can plug in your address and get a sample ballot that details all of the races will appear on your ballot in November, including the candidates running for those offices.
Here are a few shots of what my sample ballot on ballotpedia.org looks like:
From there, you can click on the photo of the candidate listed and it will take you to a page about their political career, their track record, and—this is what I find particularly helpful—their endorsements. Sometimes, if you’re not familiar with a candidate or their stance, it helps to look at what organizations have endorsed them to get a general sense of how their politics might or might not align with your own. Believe me, since I moved fairly recently, I am relying on this site quite a bit to help me get familiar with the folks hoping to govern here. It’s a fantastic resource.
Now, before I wrap this up, I want to acknowledge that there are a whole bunch of people that feel totally disillusioned with our electoral system. Maybe they feel their political views are outliers from the majority in their state. Maybe they’re absolutely fed up with the Electoral College or with the two-party system and the governmental stalemate that seems to result. Maybe, like a lot of folks here in North Carolina, they feel the weight of their vote has been gerrymandered into oblivion. I understand. I fight all of those feeling too. That’s why I place so much importance on the down-ballot races: the closer to home that political office is, the louder your voice is and the more weight your voice carries. Maybe my vote won’t count for a whole lot when it comes to the presidential race or the races for U.S. Congressional seats, but will definitely count when it comes to school board, state representatives, county commissioners, sheriffs, judges, and so on. And so will yours.
So, finish up that registration and get your tush to the polls in November. Show up and let your voice be heard. Do it for your city. Do it for your state. Do it for your neighborhood. And, for goodness sake, do it for your neighborhood Mark Ruffalo fan! *wink* Go vote!