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).