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HOW to Vote (Next Time)

November 7, 2018  |   Tags: Politics

You were getting it from all angles. The people calling your phone and showing up at your door, the podcasts you listened to, the websites you visited. They all wanted one thing: FOR YOU TO VOTE. Who cares who you voted for, or if you know who that person was? FUCKING VOTE! Sincerely though, I was glad to see the word getting out. Elections are not about what the people want. Elections are about what the people who show up to vote want. And the people who show up are not a representative sample of the voting-age population. The people who show up need not feel guilty for having an outspoken voice, but it seems unfair that our political system should represent only a fraction of our people. The best way to fix it: everyone votes!

Now that I have hit my positivity quota, on to what's really bugging me. How should I vote? I'm not asking where to go, or how to fill in my bubbles. I'm not asking to be told what candidates and issues to choose. I'm asking a question that I'm frustrated isn't being addressed: "How do I make up my own mind on who to pick, in a way that feels neither arbitrary nor prescribed?"

It can feel overwhelming to figure out that ballot. I dug in to the Colorado Governor's race, trying to keep an open mind about all the candidates, and I spent hours researching and being overwhelmed. It was hard. Not going to sugar-coat it. There's a lot of effort involved in compiling research, not to mention the effort of staying open to other people's ideas. I needed to identify the pertinent issues that mattered to me, then I needed to see each candidate's stated position on that issue, then I needed to dig around until I was satisfied that the candidate would do what they claimed (or that they would not).

In light of the energy required to cast an informed ballot, I can't blame folks for taking some shortcuts...but I want to push back on that temptation. Casting an informed ballot starts long before election time. It starts with being informed all the time, not just during elections. Oh my goodness, I think I just heard people's eyes rolling out of their heads. But hear me out! I haven't followed the news my whole life. I have voted from a place of ignorance before. If you wait to start thinking about local/state/national/international affairs until election season, you are far more likely to fall prey to campaign messaging: politicians telling you why their opponent is evil; industries selfishly lobbying against legislation that will hurt their bottom line; radicalized speech which glosses over important details; major political parties asking you to "vote {Democrat/Republican} all the way down the ballot" (which necessarily means asking you not to consider each candidate as a person). If you haven't thought about the issues you care about, and if you haven't been paying attention to past events, it's like you're on a sailboat in the ocean with no anchor. You'll go wherever the wind blows. You'll have a voting record that speaks to your influences rather than your values. You might just view politics as another spectator sport, red versus blue, and your team had better win! I have gotten into shouting matches with great friends, simply upon learning their political affiliation. I'm not proud of that.

Okay. You're interested in forming your own political opinions, and you have stayed abreast of current events. What now? Chances are, you've started to naturally form opinions in the course of digesting news every day. As you listened, watched, and read, you involuntarily started taking inventory of what you cared about. Certain stories got you more heated - pay attention to those. You care about something there. Search inside yourself. What matters to you? Write those things down before you dig in and research candidates. It can help avoid being swayed by persuasive but incomplete arguments. You'll have the info to dispel false notions on the tip of your tongue.

A good place to start with candidate research, surprisingly, is each candidate's website. Sure, they're trying to sell you. But you have the skills to combat salesmanship - you're knowledgeable and you know what you believe in. Usually each website has a page that focuses on issues. This is a good weed-out zone, because if a candidate says something you directly oppose, the words came straight from them. If they tout something as a positive that you see as a negative, they've done you a favor. I keep a list of candidates' positions on my important issues.

Political debates can be helpful too. Politicians prepare like crazy for these things, and they have their talking points lined up. Even so, it's an opportunity to catch a few candid things that slip through. I try to avoid forming my opinion of candidates based on the way they present themselves at debates, but I am surely affected. I am vigilant not to watch a debate the way I'd watch a sporting event, hoping for a particular outcome. I realllllly reallllly try to just learn, not to become biased.

At this point, you've consumed news regularly, you have solidified your own values, and you've compared your values to those self-reported by candidates. That's pretty good. You can always add more information, whatever suits your fancy. Endorsements from trusted newspapers and nonprofit organizations like the Sierra Club often articulate the advantages of one candidate over another. Newspapers and public radio will publish Q&A sessions with candidates. The list goes on. You've got a good head on your shoulders, and you have the tools to evaluate the credibility of a source. Don't accept information from undisclosed sources, and look into unfamiliar sources.

So what am I going to be doing until the next election? I am going to keep up on the news, including what these newly-elected politicians are up to. I am refusing to go away now that I've voted. I'm keeping an eye on the issues and on the politicians. And if one of those politicians could benefit from my viewpoint...maybe, just maybe, I'll call their damn office this time. I am a constituent, and I'm going to force them to represent me.