Oh election years. The debates, fights, muckraking, promises, and handshaking are already in full force. Granted, politicians never really stop campaigning but the year of the Presidential election means everything gets that much more public and very intense. I tend to have a love/hate relationship with election year. I love having the freedom to vote. It’s a freedom more people my age should take seriously. But I hate a lot of the idiocy that comes with it. Honestly there’s very little that pisses me off more than voting for a party. That’s such a terrible way to approach the voting process. But I’ll get to that. In general, I’m not one to really talk about who I’m voting for. I’ll answer if asked, but I find most people just want to hear a name so they can argue with you, rather than understand why you made these particular choices. So I tend to encourage people to vote, rather than on who to vote for. But I thought that this year, I’d at least put my process out into the world. You don’t have to agree with it but this way if you’re like, huh, I wonder how Melissa would vote, this will probably give you a clue.
Before I get into that however, I want to encourage you to vote, no matter what. The United States allows you to write-in names on the ballot so there’s honestly no excuse for you to not vote. You can argue all you want about how your one vote doesn’t make a difference but if millions of citizens would stop saying that, you might actually see things accomplished. And don’t even think about pulling the “I have the freedom to choose not to vote” excuse on me. That’s bullshit and you know it. Write your own damn name on the ballot if you can’t think of anyone you want elected. There are millions of people in this world who would trample you on the way to the ballot box if someone gave them the right to vote. Don’t piss it away. And please remember; IF YOU DIDN’T VOTE, DON’T COMPLAIN.
Let’s go back to that one vote doesn’t make a difference business though. Back in the 1840s there was a guy named Freeman Clark. Freeman lived in Indiana and on election day he headed on over to his local voting station where he cast his vote for Daniel Kelso. Now Freeman was the last voter of the day in his district so the ballots were counted shortly after he voted. Daniel Kelso won the spot in the Indiana State Senate, representing Freeman Clark’s district, by ONE VOTE. Now I can guess what you’re thinking. Whoop-di-do, Melissa. So one vote got a guy elected to the Indiana Senate in 1842. Who cares? Well as it turns out, Daniel Kelso would later be the ONE VOTE that elected Edward Hannigan to the U.S. Senate. But here’s where the real fun comes in. Edward Hannigan was the final voter in the decision to annex Texas into the United States in 1845. The vote passed with ONE VOTE. Hannigan’s one vote. If you’re paying attention, yes that means that because one farmer showed up to his district voting station, Texas became a state. There are several other examples of times where one vote, or a handful of votes (ie less than 100) made the difference. Trust me, one vote matters.
Okay, mini-lecture over and my soapbox is being stored away. Here’s my process. I start the voting process by making a list of what issues are most important to me. A few on my list include national healthcare, unemployment, education, and protecting religious or non-religious freedoms for EVERYONE. I know a lot (hell most of you) who will read this aren’t religious and many have serious distaste for those who are. So let me define that real quick. When I say religious/non-religious freedom, I mean that people should be able to practice their beliefs as they choose. (And no I am not some absurd extremist who would say that if a group believes in cult worship that involves letting snakes bite children, they should be allowed to do that. Have some fucking common sense, world.) But that means all sides need that freedom. I live in a very conservative area and many of the people I know are religious. The ones I like tend to have faith. So it really pisses me off when one group (and sadly from my perspective, this group usually claims to be Christian) tries to insist that they should get to make the rules or display what they want or teach what they want. Like taking the whole teaching creation vs evolution. I’d argue teach evolution & intelligent design. Creationism is a belief. Not so much because it believes someone or something had a hand in the world’s development but because it believes a specific someone did. So teach evolution & intelligent design. Oh and teach other theories too. And don’t teach it in a “some people believe this, but whatever” attitude. Teach it in a way that says, here is what we know for a fact. Here is what can be theorized. Here is the evidence and narratives to support these theories. Here is why you should learn to think for yourself, study, and draw your own conclusions. I do not understand why this is so hard. (And in case anyone is wondering, if someone said I had to choose one theory, I’d choose evolution as the one that should be taught in schools. )
Wow. Apparently I had more to say on that than I thought. Getting back on track, so we see that the first step I take is to decide what issues are important to me. Then I define those a little further, detailing exactly what it is that I want. So take education. I think arts programs should have funding available and that the sole focus should not be on math/science only. I think college education needs to be more affordable, especially at public schools, and not affordable as long as you’re okay with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. I think a better system needs to be determined that keeps teachers accountable to students but also recognizes that the current merit-based system is flawed. I think standardized tests are a load of crap and don’t in any way accurately measure student’s comprehension of materials. I think teachers are severely underpaid.
So as you can see, these are the details that matter to me within the education issue. (There are others but you get the idea). And I go through this process with each issue. The thing to remember is that it’s not enough to think something is important, you need to understand why it matters to you and which aspects matter more.
The next step for me is breaking down areas where I’m willing to compromise. The only way I’m going to get exactly what I want out of a candidate is if I run. I currently do not have aspirations for the presidency. Just to clear that up. But compromise is part of the game and I firmly believe that if you know where you’re willing to compromise early on, you’ll be better equipped to determine and vote for the best candidate. It is also a good idea to know what areas you won’t compromise on.
So let’s go back to the education example. I recognize that trying to completely switch from standardized testing will be difficult. We’ve used tests to measure progress in so many different things for so long that a clean break is unlikely. So I’m willing to allow for testing to continue if other forms of measurement will be incorporated.
Another rather touchy example is abortion. As I noted above, I live in a conservative (aka extremely pro-life) town. And if you’re reading this, please finish the paragraph before making judgments and ask me questions if you’re confused about something I say. I’m not saying we won’t disagree but I’d like to be sure you know why we’re disagreeing. Anyway, I personally am technically pro-life. Allow me to explain somewhat. I do think that’s a baby not a fetus. And I find it interesting that many people I know who are fine with abortion will say baby if they’re happy about the pregnancy. It’s this weirdly unconscious attack on their own argument. But I say technical because I absolutely believe that the choice should be up to the woman in the case of rape or assault. I’ve been through my fair share of shit in life. But I didn’t have to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy. And I don’t think I could have kept a baby in that case. So I’m not about to tell someone else what to do in that situation. (And the conservative right can go fuck themselves with their opinion on this issue). I’d also say that if it’s a case of mom vs baby, then both parents should decide together (with mom getting the deciding vote) what they are going to do. As you can tell, my feelings are convoluted at best. And in truth, I think education is a better answer than a flat out law.
But this is an area that I catch a lot of flak for. The above is my viewpoint. But when it comes to a candidate, this is an area I compromise on. I voted Obama in 2008. And I got a shit-ton of grief for it since he supports pro-choice. But for me, this is more of an issue of personal belief and I think there are bigger problems that this country needs to focus on. So I compromise. If you’re still with me, you can probably see that this process may take you a little while. It should. Knowing where you stand is important and shouldn’t be decided in a few minutes. And keep in mind that your opinions can change. You don’t have to be okay with or against something at 19 and never change your opinion.
The next step is a little easier. Now you make a list of the candidates and take notes on where they line up with what matters to you. You’ll want to consider their official statements and their track record in office. Sometimes politicians genuinely want to accomplish something, make strides towards it, but just can’t quite get there. That’s not the same as a broken promise. Also watch campaign speeches and pay attention both to what they are saying and what they aren’t. If a question is asked and you realize that the candidate side-stepped the issue, figure out why. Is it because the question was asked in a way that was trying to frame the person? As in no good answer? Or is there a more serious problem? You can learn just as much from a politician’s silence as you can from their speech.
Finally, get the word out and rock the vote. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to the candidate that best fits you, get involved. Work at encouraging voters in your district, at educating people about the candidate you like, and publicizing the issues. Remember as well to lobby your current elected officials (who participate in the electoral college) on the candidates that are important to you. Most of all, VOTE.