Off-Year Elections

November 10, 2009

Election week!  This past Tuesday, we had off-year elections.  Not presidential, not mid-term, but off-year.  Chances are you didn’t vote since about 40% of people actually vote in even midterm elections.  This isn’t so unusual and like many people I know (even my close friends), not knowing about local politics makes sense.  After all, not having kids going through public school, not using social services like medicare, and generally not seeing much local government in action makes people complacent.

Local issues may not seem worth your effort, except that low voter turnout misrepresents what people actually think.  A few couple of local election issues that you may care about:

  • Same-sex marriage has been rejected in all 31 states where it’s been put up for vote.  Polls show that something like 40% of people think it should be legal and it was defeated most recently this past election in Maine.  So if you’re gay or lesbian or have any gay or lesbian friends and care about them maybe you’ll care to be acknowledged by your government to be equal to everyone else.
  • Do you care that American education is so backwards that we still have people pushing to teach creationism as science in schools?  This is a local issue, that is decided by school boards and other local officials.  Quick aside – I recently heard a story of a friend of mine who was buying a drink from a concessions stand and the girl manning the cart had to go for a calculator when making change for a $20 on the $3 drink.  And apparently this girl was in high school.
  • Taxes are frequently put up to vote.  And even if the tax measures themselves aren’t, anything that mandates a service provided by the government has tax implications.  A good example of this is New York’s $50 billion medicare tab (almost $8K per person) which comes from decades of local politics.

So it’s time to go all after school special on everyone and remind everyone to take some time out and vote.  In my case, I went after work on Tuesday after spending an hour reading about the candidates up for election in my city and listening to recordings of them speak from local meetings.  If any readers are from Sunnyvale, I recommend http://www.radiosunnyvale.com/ as a good local resource.  In general, http://www.smartvoter.org/ covers every election in the country.

Some good reasons not to vote:

  • If you don’t care about what’s being put up for vote, don’t bother.  But like RT has said before, once you do this, you really have no right to complain about the outcome.
  • If you don’t care enough to research what the pro and cons are of each item, don’t vote.  This one may be more controversial, but I think turnout for turnout’s sake is stupid.  It just perpetuates shallow, short advertising that either ignores issues and anything of substance or plays up a single emotional issue with no pretense of neutrality or nuance.  Youtube has plenty of examples of such sound-bite ads.

Some bad reasons not to vote:

  • Too busy on election day.  This is a terrible excuse.  Many employers will give time off to let their employees vote.  And if you think that if we made the day a holiday so there was no dependence on a kind employer, check out this study that showed that making an Election Day holiday doesn’t really increase voter turnout.
  • Didn’t register in advance.  This was almost my excuse this year since I recently moved into town and haven’t registered locally yet.  It turns out that you can vote provisionally even without previously being registered.  The only catch is that your vote isn’t counted till later.  One neat thing about this process is that you get a stub that lets you check if your vote counted (or if they caught you on fraud).

-Tim

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Vote or Don’t Friggin’ Complain! Seriously… ever.

May 26, 2009

Young people make me sad sometimes. We’re a substantial portion of the voting population, yet politicians running for public office hardly listen to the things we have to say about the issues we care about. And I don’t fault them for that one bit. The fact of the matter is that, by in large, we don’t vote. Maybe we vote a little more in presidential elections – especially when there’s a charismatic black guy running for office – but honestly, we’re pathetic. And I hear people complain SO MUCH about the state of the government and our country, but does the average 20something vote in every (especially local) election? Methinks not, friends.

Excuse me if this is something of a rant, but it just bugs and disheartens me that our youth (myself included, of course) are so short-sighted and self-righteous at the same time. I voted by mail in today’s election (Editor’s note: This was originally written on May 19th, the day of a California state special election), and even though I knew it was a very important (that’s why they call it a “special”) election I still had to really push myself to get my ballot out there.

According to the L.A. Times, some 2.4 million Californians cast ballots by mail for the latest state election compared to back in November, when 13.7 million voters put in their presidential tallies. An 82.5% drop-off from six months ago? In the midst of the biggest economic crisis since your grandparents were graduating from high school? Really!?

OK, fine. I can accept that 20somethings don’t quite comprehend how important these elections are, or what long-lasting effects they’ll have. I can take that because no one is quite sure how these propositions will affect California’s economic outlook (as goes with all elections, really). But understand that if you don’t regularly vote in elections, both state and local, although local ones probably have more immediate impact on your life, you have no right to complain about your government. Ever.

-RT