Today’s the ballot deadline for primaries in Seattle. I’m voting.
Every time ballots come due, somebody starts arguing about whether or not people should vote. Somebody says, “If you don’t vote, you’ve lost your moral right to complain.” That’s unfair. People who don’t vote aren’t lacking in morality — they have a different morality. They think it’s pointless because the choices presented to them are all bad. Or because voting is rigged (and, in some places, it is.) Then on the other hand, somebody says, “If voting accomplished anything, it would be illegal.” To that I would say, “Yes, and sometimes it is.”
My personal view is that the power of the vote increases as voting gets more and more local. For instance, voting for the president of the U.S. has little effect unless you’re in a swing state. And the choices are usually between bad and worse. A vote on a community council has a lot of power.
And city races, like today’s? Those have consequences. I’ve followed the school board races for the past three years, and the candidates are often for or against privatization, which I oppose. In today’s race, one of the candidates, Jill Geary, has been fighting hard for the rights of special education families. I voted for her before anybody else. And I voted for John Persak for city council because I know he’s competent, fights for the working class, gets his funding from people instead of corporations, and understands the issues I care about.
(I wish I’d been more out in front of this and told everybody I knew who I was voting for or why. I’ve been distracted. I also wish I hadn’t waited until the morning of election day to search online to research the rest of the races. )
The power of voting extends beyond the choice of candidate. Voters can put pressure on elected officials. If you can show that you are part of a large voting bloc, the pressure is even greater. (Unfortunately, that’s easy for the wealthy to exploit.)
So I’m not in the “lose your moral right” camp and I’m not in the “if voting had power” camp. And there’s one big thing both camps miss out on.
Voting is a practice that should be in our everyday lives. All of our decision-making bodies should use it. But most don’t, or they use it in ways that slant the vote. Ever been presented with a slate of candidates, rather than voting for each one individually? Ever been in a group when somebody says, “Well, it looks like we have consensus on this . . .”?
I could write pages and pages of experiences I’ve had. Right now, and this is by no means my only example, I’m thinking about the experience I had when I went to the state PTA legislative assembly and was told by the entire state leadership that I couldn’t distribute a half-page information sheet, despite the lack of explicit rules against it, and despite the fact that the state PTA had provided information about only one side of the issue. That was funky.
Anyway, it seems to me that people in the U.S., whether they vote for political office or not, have gotten out of the habit of democracy. And that’s what we need to fix.