I’m sitting on my porch today fielding phone calls and being generally available to local voters. One of my favorite jobs as Chairperson of a Democratic County Committee in Pennsylvania is being the here to make sure that our voters have all the information they need…and maybe a donut and a coffee into they bargain if they feel like stopping by. Today, you see, is Pennsylvania’s Primary Election Day. Here in Pennsylvania – as in many states – we have two elections every year: a primary and a general. Some may call it an “off-year” election, but I think there is no such thing as an “off-year” election. Be it a presidential year, a mid-term year, or a local election year; every election is important.
It’s true that the heavily gerrymandered nature of many districts may make it feel like your voice doesn’t matter, most
especially when you’re in the minority. The actual fact is that your voice matters quite a lot. Indeed in your local elections your voice matters the most of all. It is a sad but true fact at this moment that non-national election years sport exceptionally low voter turnout. The upshot of such low turnout is that in smaller towns and boroughs elected officials may win their races by just tens of votes. That’s tens, not tens of thousands or tens of hundreds…just tens. Do you know ten people? You could literally sway an election. You could help a write-in candidate get on the ballot for the general election in November. You can make that difference.
Certainly, if you’ve got a job (or maybe two or three) and maybe a kid (or also maybe two or three of those) it can be tough to get to the polls but it’s also incredibly important. Especially in areas where one party seems to dominate, often the primary is the race. And let’s say you aren’t in the majority. Maybe you’re the minority party and maybe your local candidate is running unopposed – they still need your vote! It may seem silly, but they really do. Every person that turns out helps the people working to elect that currently unopposed candidate to understand where their priorities need to be in the general election. I spend not a small portion of my time wading through election data and I can never have too much data.
What about where there is a primary race though? If you’re in Pennsylvania, even if you have no local candidates at all (and if you don’t…maybe you should consider running for something), there are still statewide judicial races that are very much contested in the primary as will they be in the general election in November. This year Pennsylvanians have the privilege of electing three new PA Supreme Court justices. Three at once! That hasn’t happened in over 200 years. This is an extremely big deal. In addition to the historical uniqueness of the event, it’s also important because the judges we elect this year will likely be a deciding factor in what our Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly districts look like after the 2020 census. Have you see what our districts currently look like? Suffice it to say that the PA 4th Congressional district is in the top 10 most gerrymandered districts in the nation. In 2010 when PA Republican legislators (who were and are in
the majority) presented their new district map the Republican majority Supreme Court ruled that the boundaries were illegal. When the map was resubmitted they essentially said “here, this is less illegal” …and those are the lines we have today brought to you in part by the guy that admitted that the point of voter ID laws was to win Pennsylvania for Romney.
Good thing that law was struck down. Who struck it down? Why Judge Bernard McGinley, PA Commonwealth Court Judge, of course. Remember how I said judicial elections were really important? I wasn’t kidding.
I know I’m biased. I’m as true-blue a Democrat as you’ll ever find, no two ways about it. I strongly believe that it is our duty as citizens to vote. People have argued that you choose to vote and that not voting makes as much of a statement as voting. Personally, I think that argument is a very large pile of bologna. Not voting when you are perfectly capable of doing so is not a statement, it’s a refusal to make a statement.
Most often, from people who choose not to vote, I hear a variation on two themes. Here are the themes and my responses.
- All politicians are crooks.
- No, they aren’t. Just for starters that’s statistically improbable. It’s also a really tired and lazy excuse for not voting. Will most politicians bend the truth during their tenure as whatever you elect them to do? Yeah, probably. Does that make them horrible people? No. Does it mean you should just stop voting because no one is perfect? No. Hey, if you think politicians are so awful maybe you should run for something. I’m not being facetious, I’m being serious. If you think you can do better then do it. In the meantime, “all politicians are crooks” is a cop-out.
- I don’t know anything about the candidates.
- The internet. If you want information on candidates Google them. Read your local paper. Watch the news. Call your local Democratic (or Republican) Committee person and ask about the candidates. No one is going to spoon feed you this information. We don’t live in the matrix. It will not magically download into your head. You have to take the initiative and look it up. “But I don’t know the issues.” Again, look them up. Do you feel you aren’t smart enough to understand the issues? I get it. Some election issues are legitimately really complicated. That’s why County Party Committees exist: to help you through the issues. I know, it means a little research and maybe talking to someone, but the information is out there if you want it. And if all else fails, find a voter guide that you can trust and just vote for the people they recommend. There is absolutely no shame in that. Political parties and interest groups exist – in part – to help you categorize candidates as desirable or undesirable based on your values.
Now, keep in mind that I understand that sometimes you literally can’t vote. Pennsylvania is a closed primary state which means today is Democrats and Republicans only. While your job is required to give you time off to go vote, that doesn’t mean they have to pay you for it and if you’re making in the vicinity of minimum wage you may not be able to afford the time off. These are things I understand and things that need to change.
In the meantime, if you can vote you must vote. Take the time and raise your voice.