The first time I ever voted was in 2004. I had just turned 18 a few weeks before election day, and I was at least as excited to get a hall pass to go to the gym during my free period as I was to cast my ballot. (Welcome to Small Town America! All public elections and blood drives take place in the high school gymnasium.)
I skimmed through most of the ballot. Dafuq did I care who was town treasurer? Old Mr. Farwell had held that post for centuries. SKIP. And town selectmen? Why couldn’t we just have a fucking mayor like everyone else? SKIP. State Senator? SKIP. Representative? SKIP. SKIPPITY. SKIP.
I hopped right down to the main event: George W. Bush vs. John Kerry for President of the United States. I filled in the little bubble next to Kerry’s name.
We all know what happened next. And it’s why you’ll never take the tour of the Kerry Presidential Library in Aurora, Colorado.
I was pretty disgusted. It’s not that I was excited about voting another gray-faced old Lego man wearing a mop wig into office. But I wanted to win! I wanted to feel like my vote mattered. Instead I felt like I’d wasted my free period when I could’ve been bullying my future husband out of his lunch money to buy orange creamsicles from the vending machine.*
Needless to say, Old Mr. Farwell stayed town treasurer. And I completely missed the lesson to be learned from my first election.
Read on, and you won’t make the same mistake.
Voting is important
For some reason, not-voting is in vogue. And this is not just an Old Millennial picking on The Youths thing. People of all ages, races, and socioeconomic classes just don’t vote.
And hey, I get it! It’s fucking frustrating to endure campaign ads and canvassers and all the conflicting bullshit of election ads. I’m personally ready to drop my cell phone in the fires of Mount Doom if I receive one more unsolicited text message from a local campaign.
On top of that, it’s really hard to feel motivated to vote when you feel your life does not personally change for the better after an election.
Most politicians are not particularly inspiring or even ethical people (especially when you get to the federal level). It can be hard to muster any enthusiasm for the average elected official. They’re all rich folks backed by richer corporations who spend more time grasping for power than legislating positive change for the lives of everyday Americans. Barack Obamas, with all their hope and change, are thin on the ground in politics. And even he murdered Yemeni children with predator drones so really, I get the disillusionment when these are the leaders we have to choose from! And let’s not even get into the carbuncle on the armpit of humanity that is the Electoral College!
So the candidates suck and the system is broken.
But I promise voting matters. Stay with me here.
Vote for those who can’t
Right now there are thousands of people wasting away in detention centers in the United States, separated from their families and with no clear recourse in sight. The immigration courts are overwhelmed with these undocumented people seeking asylum or a new life. They’re treated like shit and vilified on the evening news.
Others are stuck in the Green Card limbo of being from a predominantly Muslim country, but unable to return to their homes in America because of the travel ban. (Oh I’m sorry, did you think it went away?)
There are Native Americans on reservations—some of the most impoverished areas in this colony—who are getting paperworked out of their voting rights on a technicality. Same goes for people in communities of predominantly people of color.
These are American citizens who are finding themselves stripped of the most fundamental right of citizenship just in time for a major election.
These people can’t vote, but they are deeply, deeply affected by the decisions made by the people the rest of us vote into office. They live and die by immigration reform and foreign policy and gerrymandering and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It seems completely against every principle on which this country stands, but it’s true: they are ruled without representation.
If you don’t think voting is important, or that your vote matters, think of those who can’t vote. Maybe you wouldn’t bother casting a ballot for yourself. But what about casting a ballot in the interests of those who can’t? What about considering the plight of the unrepresented when voting?
If you’re not convinced that you’ll be personally affected by the outcome of an election, think of all the people who might be. And then think of what they’d want you to do to make their lives a little easier.
They are not all the same
One of the most common reasons people cite for not voting (based entirely on anecdotal evidence from the maddening void of social media) is because “they’re all the same.” And if you follow the vilifying campaign ads and rhetoric regarding the various candidates’ shortcomings, yeah—they can all blur together into one corrupt mass of out-of-touch millionaires who barely know how to wipe their own asses, let alone fix our country’s problems.
But they’re not the same. I promise you.
Because in the last Presidential election, there was one candidate who ran on the platform of shitting all over immigrants and people of color and the LGBT community… and one who didn’t.
One candidate was going to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would defend things like reproductive rights. The other has since appointed two Justices who publicly promise to tear those rights to shreds.
One candidate was committed to raising the minimum wage even a little bit. The other instituted some of the largest tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens this country has ever seen.
Guess which one won?
I’m not here to call Hillary Clinton a saint. I’m just politely pointing out that she had no plans to fuel the fire of transgender persecution, xenophobia, and antisemitism. I also don’t mean “they’re not all the same” in that “some are wonderful people.” I mean some are bearable. And some are intolerable.
And yes. That’s a fucking difference. So choose.
The perfect (system) is the enemy of the good (system that we currently have)
Quick history lesson here. The United States is a representative democracy, as opposed to a direct democracy. This means that we elect representatives of the people who make policy decisions on our behalf. Instead of voting on each and every bill and decision that passes through federal and state governments, we put our trust in elected officials to do that for us.
With me so far?
This means that if your preferred candidate doesn’t win, you’re shit outta luck on every decision coming down the pike. You don’t get to have input. Instead, your neighbors’ preferences on various policies have trumped your own.
Which can be pretty disheartening. Especially if you know your views are in the minority within your state.
It’s even worse when it comes to Presidential elections, where the Electoral College makes it entirely possible that a candidate can win the majority of the individual votes in the country, but still lose the election. (Note that I linked to the 2000 Presidential election and not the 2016 election because this happens with frightening regularity.)
“Well fuck,” say you, the disillusioned voter. “That’s a crappy system. Why even bother voting if it means being part of this corrupt, imperfect Mickey Mouse operation?”
Because waiting around for a better system instead of voting does fuck-all to affect change right now.
Yes, if the candidates you vote for lose elections, you won’t have much chance to be heard in state and federal government. But if you vote, you at least have a chance of being heard.
If you don’t vote, no one can hear you scream.
If your vote doesn’t matter, then why the hell are they trying so hard to prevent you from voting?
There’s this myth that millions of unregistered voters are committing voting fraud every election cycle. It’s definitely a myth. Like, there were literally only four documented cases of voter fraud in 2016. And my favorite is the woman who voted twice under the mistaken belief that she would cancel out the vote of someone voting illegally. Yeah.
And yet there’s also this strange thing happening where millions of citizens—legal voters all—are being wiped from the records of registered voters.
Oh wait, it’s not strange: it’s racist. Because these citizens are losing their right to vote because of calculated, systematic efforts on behalf of certain political parties (WHO SHALL REMAIN UNNAMED) to disenfranchise people of color.
And why? Why are these efforts to disenfranchise voters targeting specific communities? And why seek to lessen the power of certain voter blocks? Why prevent Americans from voting?
Because voting works.
The voters being conveniently disenfranchised statistically vote a certain way. I’ll just spit it out: brown people vote for Democrats. And Republicans want to stay in power. Which is why they’re behind the efforts to purge the voting rolls.
They are afraid of us. They are afraid of what we can do when we all vote. What more proof do you need that your vote matters?
It’s way more effective than waiting for the revolution to come
Look, when the revolution comes, I’ll be the first to donate my old T-shirts and rags to the cause of making molotov cocktails. But which do you think is more likely to speed that day along: voting for candidates and referendums that will make concrete differences in our local governments, or complaining to your coworkers about how Bernie was robbed of the nomination?
Yes, the system is imperfect. And yes, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and vote for “the lesser of two evils.”
But voting is one way you can contribute to positive change. Abstaining from voting isn’t a noble protest against a broken system. It isn’t a guillotine poised to cut the head from the snake of corruption and greed. It’s just a great way to be completely ignored.
When we don’t vote, we are doing a favor to the powerful people who drink champagne and laugh at our little revolutions. Those motherfuckers don’t have to be in power. But they will be if you’re too busy blogging about the #resistance to get to the polls.
How do you decide?
So now that I’ve convinced you to vote (right? RIGHT?), let’s talk about the how. Because one of the reasons cited for not voting in 2016 was that it was too hard. And while I can’t personally address the problem of voting happening on a fucking Tuesday when people have to work, I can help remove some of the mystery about how to make up your mind.
Don’t get your information on local referendums and elections from commercials
You might have noticed your commercials are particularly obnoxious recently. Dire voiceovers cautioning you to vote NO on 113 because JOBS! A concerned narrator talking about that time the incumbent stole candy from a baby! Did you know the candidate believes in castrating baby otters?!?! If you vote YES on Amendment 3B, gay abortion doctors will steal your job and move a Mexican gang into your spare bedroom!!!!!!
Right so you should just ignore all that shit.
Political operatives spend a lot of money attempting to influence us through scary commercials and vague billboards. The opponents to a referendum on fracking might bombard you with messages about how it will “hurt jobs.” Those in favor of raising sales tax 0.003% might say that it’s “for the children.” These are gross simplifications meant to prey on your fears and take advantage of your lack of time to properly research the ballot questions.
Turn a blind eye to it all. Throw election fliers in the recycling bin. Turn the TV off. Ignore banners along the road. They’re all biased. They all have an agenda, and it’s probably not your own.
Seek out unbiased resources
Instead, go to Ballotpedia or another nonprofit, nonpartisan resource for your information. There, you can type in your address and get a list of every candidate, referendum, and amendment on your local ballot. It’ll break it down into simple language you don’t need an advanced legal degree to understand.
And if you want more background information, you can click through to read more about the history of the referendums, who is sponsoring them, and why they’re even on the ballot.
You can take notes and bring these notes to the polls with you. Or if you’re in one of those civilized states that votes by mail, you can fill out your ballot as you do your research!
No irritating ads. No manipulation. Just read the facts and get it done.
If there’s a referendum you’re not sure about, think of who it might affect
Look, not everything is about you.
Maybe you don’t have kids and couldn’t care less that the little tykes currently have to play in a needle-strewn highway median while waiting for their parents to come home from work, so you don’t vote to fund an after-school program.
Maybe you own a home so you don’t need to worry about a referendum that requires the owners of apartment buildings to provide a certain number of subsidized units for low-income tenants.
I hope I don’t need to tell you what a dick move it is to just ignore these decisions because they don’t personally affect your life. We are literally all in this together (and by “this” I mean our local governments). If something on the ballot has nothing to do with you, think of the people in your community it might benefit or hurt. Consider their needs. And if it’s in your power to vote in a way that will make their lives a little easier, make your community a little stronger, please do so. It ain’t hard.
Plus, there may come a day when you need them to vote on something that will deeply affect your life. And karma’s a motherfucker.
How to vote
The 2018 midterm election is tomorrow. It’s here, my fellow Americans: our chance to make a fucking difference.
So now that I’ve effectively convinced you to vote and vote wisely (RIGHT???), let’s make it easy.
- Register to vote.
- Research the candidates and decisions.
- Find your ballot box or polling location.
- Correctly fill out and cast your ballot.
A lot of ink has been spilled about our “civic duty” and “making a difference.” But if I might make one more impassioned plea for your participation in this election, let it be this:
We all want control over our own lives. By not voting, you’re essentially handing a piece of that control over to the asshole who lives down the street. And you know what? Fuck that guy. Vote.
*This actually happened on an almost weekly basis. I think he like-liked me.