Early this year, candidates started announcing their intentions to run for the Democratic nomination for President, in the 2020 election. At first, I rolled my eyes. It’s that reflexive disdain for politics, that people often feel. The thing is, I have a B.S. in political science. I love this stuff. Nevertheless, I was annoyed that people were announcing so early. It’s like when the grocery store has Halloween candy in August. Do we have to start so early?
Then I started seeing what a stellar list of candidates there were, and the level of debate that was forming. Elizabeth Warren is a huge reason for this, and she’s not even my first pick. She’s put forward so much policy, she has made her candidacy the one to beat, on merit. She is the gold standard candidate, as far as I’m concern. She has plans and a platform, for her Presidency. Every candidate should be aiming for that bar.
The reason I rolled my eyes, at first, wasn’t the candidates. They weren’t the problem. It was because I don’t want the 2020 Democratic primary to drown out the election we have before that. If anyone is confused at what I’m talking about, I mean the 2019 election. If anyone is wondering what freaking election there is in 2019, you are not alone.
According to this – In the U.S., Almost No One Votes in Local Elections only about 15% – 30% vote in local elections. I live in Rochester, NY, and I usually see returns around 31% in a good year.
Understand that this is a percentage of registered voters. There is a significant amount of our population, that is eligible to vote and are not registered. People complain about potholes, and they complain about corruption, but when we look to blame the politicians, we might want to save some blame for ourselves.
This country is a baby, compared to a lot of other countries. When we talk about the promise of our country, our potential, we are really talking about proving our democracy can work. We have yet to do that. We have yet to successfully guarantee that our democracy protects our citizens equally, and cares for the common good in a measured and real way. Part of that is because we are not doing our jobs as citizens. The entire idea of representation, when our forefathers were forming this nation, was to ensure that the people would tell the representatives how to represent their interests. It was never meant to run on auto-pilot.
Last year, we got a really good bump in turnout. We elected a record number of women to Congress and we made strides in state elections. I’m not just talking about Democrats. I’m talking about the country. We made strides in getting people to turn out and vote; to participate in our democracy.
Despite that, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Democracy is not a one-time thing, and we can’t just think we did pretty good showing up for that one vote, and now things should get better. Democracy is incumbent upon a participating citizenry. It is our civic duty, to ensure that laws are upheld It is also our job to ensure that representatives are accountable, transparent, and working for us, the people.
There is a good check list of things, every citizen should be doing, if they are to be upholding their personal civic duty:
1. Be Registered to Vote
- This includes periodically checking and confirming that you registration is in good standing.
- If you need any information about registering, checking your registration, polling place, or to see who is on your ballot, google your county’s Board of Elections (BOE). For instance, I live in Monroe County, New York. I would google “Monroe County Board of Elections, New York” and I would get their website. From there I can call them or just search the site for what I need.
- Election laws are different in each state. It is important to register as early as possible, because some states have deadlines. Some might require ID. Look this stuff up now, so you know it and can plan accordingly.
- If you’re a super nerd (like me) you can go here on election night to see the returns, as they come in. They will be unofficial until the BOE certifies the results, which happens after election night.
2. Identify Your Representatives
- President and Congress is good, but this is important at all levels of government. Put their contact info in your phone, if you want to be super dialed in
- Some apps will looks this stuff up for you, like https://www.countable.us/ and https://ballotpedia.org
- Local officials you can look up by going to your county, city and town websites, or calling them and asking them to tell you. Remember they work for you. Remember, they are good people and be nice to them. (Sincerely, someone who used to work for the BOE)
3. Pay Attention to Your Representatives
- Pay attention to the news, or check the appropriate government sites, to see how your officials are voting on legislation.
- If you want your rep to propose legislation or vote a certain way, contact them. Otherwise, the only people talking to them, will be lobbyists, and the lobbyists will write them checks to get them re-elected. The only way to combat that, is a bunch of citizens calling them, to respectfully state, that they will vote them out, if they do not vote in the interest of the community.
- Use apps like https://resist.bot/ and https://www.countable.us/ to stay in touch, by sending them emails on issues that are important to you.
- If you really need their help on something, call their office and ask if you can make an appointment. If they are in Congress, remember that they split their time with being local and in DC, so it might be some time before you can get an appointment. Remember that whether you like your rep or not, their aides are government workers. Be kind to them, and remember they are just doing their job.
- This should be number 1, but it comes after you do 1-3.
- Go with friends, volunteer to help elderly get to the polls, encourage fellow citizens to remember to vote.
- Support every citizen’s inalienable right to vote. Fight any voter suppression in your state. Every vote should count, and every vote should count equal to every other vote.
5. Rinse and Repeat, All Year, Every Year
I’m actually excited about the 2020 Democratic candidates (most of them). I think debate is good and challenging each other to be better is good. I think hearing different ideas is good. I think diverse plans and people, are good.
I still want us to focus on the election at hand, and right now, that is the 2019 local election. The wins we have, in 2019, will build local coalitions across this country, for the 2020 election. Every year, we end up stronger or weaker, by the outcome of the previous year’s election. This is true for each political party, and it’s true for the country.
I think our country will deliver on the promise of our democracy, when we can consistently get real turnout. I want to say 100% but I know people will call me naïve and a dreamer. If I say 90% some will say that is still too high to expect, but I think it’s necessary. Let’s at least try to improve on the last election at the same level. If 30% is the best we do for local elections, let’s shoot for 40% this year. Is that a lot? I would argue it’s not, but I also want 100%. Let’s say it would be a huge improvement.
I commit to getting out the vote this year, and encouraging better voter turnout, even though is a local election year. I hope you will too. At least commit to the basics of civic duty, if you agree with me. Be registered, know your state’s election laws, know the candidates, and vote.
Then maybe we can fix some of these damn pot holes, literally and proverbially.