Oct 28, 2014

The Importance of Informed Voting: Prepping For the Mid-Term Elections

In a scene that repeated over and over throughout my childhood, I stood in line with my parents outside the local VFW hall. My father left work early and we waited, sometimes for hours, alongside what seemed like the entire population of our small town, to vote. During that time, anticipating their turn in the polling booth, my parents would talk to my sister and I about why we were there, the voting process and the candidates.

No matter the election… local, primaries, state, presidential… that line stretched and wound through the parking lot and my parents were part of it every time.

When I was in college, I drove a six-hour round-trip back to my hometown to spend 10 minutes in the polling booth.  Looking back on that experience, plus the example my parents are still setting, I have no excuse for not voting. And that’s fine, because I love voting.  I look forward and get excited about it every single time.

Democracy is beautifully fragile, held together only by dedication and commitment to the idea. Voting is a crucial element of sustaining democracy, and one that every citizen has both the right and responsibility to take part in.

But, voting is only a single component in that process. Certainly, it is the part that gets the glory.  There are catchy slogans, registration drives, celebrity commercials and adorable stickers dedicated to reminding us all to get to the polls.

In fact, the real work comes well before it’s time to mark the ballot. Filling in the circles, pressing the buttons and pulling the lever are the easy parts. While voting is important, informed voting is even more so.

The summer of my ninth birthday, Bush and Dukakis were battling it out for the Oval Office. Our church’s vacation bible school hosted a mock election.  The morning before we were to place our pretend votes I nervously whispered to my friend, Candy, that I didn’t know who to vote for.  She advised me to ask my parents; they would tell me what party we belonged to and who to vote for. Even at nine years old, it sounded like awful advice.

A couple decades later, listening to anyone else, be it a political party, a celebrity spokesperson, or glitzy television ads, telling me how to vote still sounds like a terrible idea.

Informed voting means taking the time, doing the research, and making a decision that feels like it is in the best interest of my city, state or nation. Informed voting means reading the complete text of bills and propositions and delving into candidate voting histories, positions and biographies. Doing less amounts to making a guess. 

Democracy deserves better than guesses.

From our founding fathers, to our men and women in uniform, countless Americans have made unimaginable sacrifices to create and ensure democracy. Around the world, our right to self-govern is envied, dreamed of, craved. Seeing the photos of elections held around the globe, especially in the Middle East, with people flocking to cast their votes, many for the first time, and proudly holding up ink-smeared fingers as their form of the iconic “I Voted’ sticker makes popping into the polls and placing a random vote feel disrespectful.

That’s not to say I haven’t done it. In the years since turning 18, I’ve taken guesses at what I thought bills contained only to find out later I was very wrong, I’ve asked my husband who I should vote, I’ve cast ballots for candidates I knew nothing about just because they were put forth by the party I most identified with at the time, and I’ve even voted the straight party ticket out of sheer laziness.

But knowing better means doing better. So, in this final week before the mid-term elections, I’m pulling out my voter’s guide and doing some Internet digging. I’m looking at everything from where the gubernatorial candidates received their funding and what they plan for education spending to how my city council members voted on that controversial new hotel. I’m even working my way through the convoluted text of the proposed laws. It will undoubtedly take a few glasses of red to make it through, but in the end I’ll feel good about having done my homework.

I hope to see you in line at the polls, and I hope you are as excited to be there as I am.

Resources for informed voting: 

VoteSmart.org - Find the voting history, biography and positions of candidates ranging from national to local. 

VotersEdge.org - Enter your address to see an approximation of your ballot, including national, state and local level candidates as well as ballot measures. You'll also find information including summaries and financial impact statements for proposed laws, candidate histories and campaign funding information. 

State of California Voter's Guide - An online version of the booklet that appears in the mail. Find candidate statements and see summaries and full text of proposed laws. 

Vote411.org - Find your polling place and learn how to register

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