Many years ago I was walking from the bus to my place of work, when I saw a woman holding a microphone standing with a guy with a TV camera on his shoulder up ahead, talking to another pedestrian. My workplace at the time happened to be across the street from the headquarters of one of the three local network affiliate TV stations, and two others were within a three or four block radius, so it hadn’t been the first time I saw a pair like that interviewing passers-by. By the time I got close, the young woman asked, “Excuse me, sir, can we ask you a couple of questions?”
I said, “Sure.”
Camera guy points the camera at us, the woman smiles and asks, “Are you aware that today is a primary election, and did you vote?”
Her smile got even broader. “Why did you vote? Is there something special on the ballot this time that compelled you to turn out?”
I think I blinked stupidly for a second before I said. “It’s an election. I always vote. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a responsible citizen.”
I hadn’t finished before her face fell, she turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion with her hand. The cameraman stopped filming. Then the young woman said, “Thank you, sir,” and started scanning the sidewalk looking for someone else.
I was telling a co-worker about it later that day, and he asked, “How often do you think you forget to vote?” And I explained that I had only ever missed one election—the very first primary that happened the year I moved to Seattle to attend University—and only then because I didn’t get my registration updated in time for the primary, but I did vote in the general that year.
He explained that he did a lot of volunteer work for several election campaigns over the years, including the get-out-the-vote stage of such campaigns and he said, “They have this term, a ‘perfect voter’ by which they mean a person who voted in every general, primary, and special campaign in the last four-year period. That’s you!”
My state is one of the six states holding a Presidential primary or caucus today. We have been an all-mail-in voting state for some years now, so that usually means my husband and I sitting down at the kitchen table with voter pamphlets and the like on the weekend before election day to fill ours out (and make a lot of snarky comments about some of the candidate statements in the pamphlet). When we lived in Ballard we would usually walk together the 10-ish blocks from our place to the local library branch to drop the ballots in the big drop box. Now that we’re in Shoreline, I drive to the nearest library (it’s about two and a half miles away, so I don’t walk) to drop them off.
Which I have already done.
Since the only thing on the Presidential Primary ballot is President, we didn’t need to actually read the pamphlet. I have had the Democratic nominees ranked in my head for some time. The only reason I didn’t fill out my ballot as soon as it arrived was because I was pretty sure a bunch of candidates would drop out after Super Tuesday last week. Which they did. So I wound up voting for the candidate that had started out around fifth or sixth place on my list back during the early debates. And not because my opinion of him has changed, but because every other candidate I liked more has since left the race.
I love the graphic at the top of this post because it so brilliantly illustrates the difference between people’s perception of the political spectrum, and the reality. The media loves to paint Bernie Sanders as a far left liberal, and Elizabeth Warren as nearly as far left, while the truth is that Bernie and Liz would barely be considered left of center in any European country, and when you look at policies most Americans support on various polls, they are pretty much smack dab in the middle compared to the voters.
And if my face was on that graphic, I would be very far to the left of Bernie.
As much as I loved Barack Obama, he wasn’t a liberal. He was right of center, by a bit. Most of his foreign policy was very similar to that of the George W. Bush admin during its second term, for goodness sake! When Bill Clinton was in office, he was actually further to the right than Obama would be. And yeah, the entire Republican party isn’t merely rightwing, it is extremely far rightwing (and quite a lot of it alt-right).
Anyway, I’ve voted for the least conservative option still in the race. Let’s see what happens!
The main thing I remember about that first election was that the person I voted to represent me in Congress won, while the down ballot races were more mixed. My preferred party lost the majority in the state legislatures lower house, that year.
Two years later was the first time I voted in a presidential election, and I have much more vivid recollections of just what a painful election it was. The guy I least wanted to become president (Reagan) won. My choices for Senator, Governor, and state Attorney General lost. The both house of the state legislator swung heavily into Republican control. I was devastated. It was another 12 years before the person who I chose on the general election ballot would win the Presidency—and that person had not been the candidate I supported during the caucuses. Then another 16 years before the candidate I favored in the caucuses got the nomination (and went on to become President).
My point is, out of 10 presidential election cycles, only four times did the person I vote for win, and even less often did the candidate I favored in the run-up even make it to the ballot. And the way things look right now, the person I wish would get the nomination and become the next president has become quite a longshot. But at no point has it ever made sense to me that I shouldn’t vote.
I was reminded this morning—while I was looking at the demographic information about who actually turned out to vote in yesterday’s primaries (and the heated discussion from some quarters about the results)—of the Zen story about A Drop of Water:
A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.
“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”
The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.
The usual lesson people take from the story is that it’s easy while struggling with big problems (the buckets of water), to become careless about more routine chores.
One of the most fundamental of chores is to show up. It doesn’t matter how pure or noble your intentions are. It doesn’t matter how many people you have
harassed tried to educate on line. It doesn’t even matter if you have volunteered or donated to your great and noble candidate. If you don’t show up and vote, you leave the decision to other people. And yelling about conspiracies after the vote didn’t go your way, rather than admitting that the people who showed up (and thanks to voter suppression tricks going on in some states, stood in line for up to 7 hours before getting to cast their votes) just picked a different person.
If you did show up and vote, but the polling data indicates that a lot of people who claim to agree with you didn’t, those people are the ones you should be yelling at. They are the ones who have let you down. The other voters who maybe have your candidate as their second or third choice are not the problem.
I know it’s been a lot of politics lately, but since most of my writing time is going to NaNoWriMo, blog posts will be short. And the kind of blog post where I share a couple of links and make a shot commentary don’t take much time. So, here we go:
Despite all the things stacked against the blue wave (gerrymandered congressional districts, voter suppression efforts, the non-democratic/non-proportional nature of the Senate), the not-Nazi party has won a lot: Democrats had a good showing on Election Day. It’s been even better for them since. A lot of the races were too close to call on election night, but eager newspeople were more than willing to call them anyway. As more votes are counted, some of those calls are proving to be wrong. As just one example that this isn’t something that should surprise us: six years ago Jeff Flake was elected to represent Arizona in the Senate. On election night in 2012 he led his opponent by nearly 6%, so everyone called it. By the time all of the votes were counting, his lead had shrunk to a teensy bit more that 2%—he still won, but it was a lot closer than it had appeared on election night.
This year, that same Senate seat was up with no incumbent. On election night, the Republican candidate led the Democratic condidate by a woefully thin margin of one-half of a percentage point. As more ballots have been counted, the lead shrank, just like Flake’s did six years ago (because late-coming ballots often lean heavily one way or another; in Arizona’s case, late-arriving ballots tend to be more Democratic). So now the Democrat leads by a bit more than one percent. That’s a smaller shift than what happened six years ago, but well within what should have been expected: ELECTION DRAMA: Democrat Takes Tiny Lead in Arizona Senate Count; Florida Senate & Governor Prepare For Recount.
Will the lead widen? Will it narrow? Will it narrow enough to throw things into a recount? Will it flip? We don’t know for certain until all the ballots are counted. And that’s true of many races. We’re all so eager, as voters, to know the answer right away, forgetting that ballot counting takes time. The results reported on election night are always just a sample.
That’s why two races in Florida are still up in the air. Things were too close to call: Florida Begins Vote Recounts in Senate and Governor’s Races.
It isn’t just a matter of which ballots come in later (because of military ballots being shipped in from overseas, or absentee ballots mailed on the last day, or states like mine where all voting is by mail and we’re allowed to mail or drop off our ballots at the very last moment). Nor is it just because of issues like that story about one county I included a link to on Saturday where an overadundance of gross incompetence delayed the beginning of counting (among other things). In very high population centers, the sheer volume of the number of ballots means that only a tiny fraction are counted by the end of election night. Instead of hundreds or maybe thousands more to be counted in the following days, it’s hundreds of thousands. So we have low-populations counties like one in the Florida panhandle which had counted all but 26 ballots by the end of election night, and then a place like King County in Washington where there were over a quarter of a million (250,000) uncounted ballots in hand the day after election day—and because mail-in ballots were still in the postal system, thousands more on their way.
We don’t get answers fast. The fact that the margins change as more ballots are counted doesn’t mean something fishy is going on. The election ain’t over until every vote is counted.
First up, this started as a twitter thread people were sharing. One woman who shared the tale of the disasters she and her husband witnessed when they volunteers as poll workers: Porter County’s 2018 Election Fiasco. The county disbanded its election board this year and put everything in the hands of the County Clerk’s office… and obviously they were not prepared. The post I’ve linked has more details than the twitter thread, as she added stuff when she converted it. It’s really an interesting look into just what a clanky and disorganized mechanism our voting system (not just this one county by any means!) is.
Another clunky thing: while millionaires and richer make up approximately 10% of the population of the country, more than half of Congresspeople are millionaires. And while a congress person’s salary is decent, there are some problems when someone who makes only $29 thousand dollars a year gets elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes youngest woman ever elected to Congress). She’s expected to head to Washington D.C. soon and start participating in orientation, hiring staff and such… but she doesn’t get her first pay check as a Congress person until February. And D.C. is famously very expensive to live in.Fox News Can’t Believe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won’t Sell Clothes She Doesn’t Own To Pay DC Rent. (The clothes thing is because Ocasio-Cortez did a little modeling a few years ago, and she wore some expensive clothes in a photo shoot. You know, clothes that were owned by the people paying for the advertising campaign the photos were for? Clothes the models wear long enough to be photographed in and are then taken back by the actual owners.
What pisses me off about this is the number of people who are Democrats and otherwise not clueless Fox News personalities who are also making fur of the fact that a woman who was working as a bartender in Brooklyn that the people of Brooklyn elected to represent them in Congress, isn’t secretly a millionaire or something. And people wonder why we keep winding up with slimy people as politicians…
And there are other weirdnesses. When, oh when will they start hiring actual designers to work on things like, say, ballots? Something Looks Weird In Broward County. Here’s What We Know About A Possible Florida Recount. As someone who has professionally designed user interfaces and documentation, as soon as I saw the picture of the ballot I realized immediately why 26,000 voters in one county skipped a race entirely: it looks like it is an example, and not an actual office to be filled in.
Finally, some good news for the future. I’m tempted to re-title this next story “Millenials Kill the Republican Party” but I realize that’s a bit of a stale joke, so I’ll still with their title< Trump celebrated the midterm results, but without millennials and women he could be headed for disaster in 2020. Despite all the gloom and doom predictions and the huge number of stories I saw over the last two years claiming that the polls can’t be believed because young voters respond to polls but then they don’t show up, or how Democrats were driving young voters away for reasons, young voters turned out in record numbers, and overwhelmingly they are rejecting what the Republicans in general and Trump in particular are selling.
There is a lot more fight ahead. One election swinging to just half of one branch of government isn’t going to solve anything. And if we don’t remain engaged and call our representatives and urge them not to vote for somethings, things will get much much worse. But there is hope!
When I got to here, she stepped up and said, “Excuse me, sir, may we ask you a few questions?”
The camera was now pointed at me. I said, “Sure.”
“Did you know there was a primary election today?”
“Yes, of c–” I answered.
She interrupted me. “And did you vote this morning?”
I grinned. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“I’m sure you know that many people don’t vote in the primary, sir. Why did you vote? Was there a particular issue on the ballot that drove you to vote today?”
I know that I blinked dumbly at her for a moment before I said. “Um, I always vote. I have never missed a primary, general election, or special election since I was old enough to register. Voting every time is what you’re supposed to do…”
But before I had finished that answer, she had dropped the microphone, turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion across her throat. “Thank you, sir” she said perfunctorily, and turned her attention to someone else walking down the sidewalk.
Apparently that wasn’t he answer she was looking for.
I was reminded of this story because a lot of people I know are re-tweeting and re-blogging a comment from a blogger who I have frequently quoted before about how important it is to show up and vote. Except he doesn’t quite say it that way. In an earlier draft of this post I quoted him and then picked apart his arguments, but that isn’t really useful.
While it’s true that some demographics show up less consistently to vote, that isn’t the only problem. There are a lot of people pointing fingers at the voters for not showing up, but doing so ignores at least two other major issues:
- Voters who do show up, but cast their votes for third-party candidates who can’t wint
- Voters who look at the choices and are appalled that they get to choose between an ultra-conservative and a moderate conservative, so they don’t show up.
Both of these are different aspects of a big blind spot that most people suffer from and that the major media outlets completely ignore: The center is not where anyone pretends it is. The Democratic party is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a liberal party. The two major parties in this country are not sitting at opposite ends of a spectrum. The Republicans, yes, are super, neanderthal-ishly conservative, but the Democrats, are also conservative. Going by voting records, 90-some percent of the elected democrats in congress are more conservative than the majority of the U.S. population on topics of: gun control, health care for all, gay rights, women’s rights, tax policy, Social Security funding, and allowing businesses to discriminate against people for religious reasons.
And the establishment Democratic operation keeps endorsing candidates in that right-of-center realm. Which makes a lot of the natural Democratic base roll their eyes and either not show up, or come to the polls and throw away their votes by voting for third-party candidates.
There have been a number of primaries in various states in the last month or so where unprecedented numbers of Democratic voters are showing up. Some precincts ran out of ballots, so many more people than ever have before showed up! And in a number of these races the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending money endorsing a candidate who they think will appeal to the Trump voters. And in a lot of those races, all those extra democratic voters showing up are voting for candidates that actually espouse a few liberal policies. And they’re winning.
I don’t buy the line from the DCCC that those extra voters are picking losers. I think it’s the DCCC that keeps picking losers. Of the excuses I hear from people who either don’t vote and throw their votes away other ways is that they don’t feel they have a real choice. Even in races where the Republicans are fielding a foaming-at-the-mouth racist, and the Democrats are putting up someone who looks middle of the road. And that’s because the middle-of-the-road guy keeps making conciliatory remarks about the blatant racism, et al, of his opponent. And while there actually is a difference between the two, to a lot of folks looking on, it just doesn’t seem that way.
And we’ve been bitten before. The Democrats had solid majorities in both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, and they didn’t enact any liberal policies. They spent two years begging and pleading with a few slightly less rightwing than Attila the Hun Republicans to get them to support a half-assed watered-down version of a couple of their promised initiatives. Even with more than 70% of the voters approving it, they didn’t even try to repeal Don’t-Ask- Don’t-Tell (allowing queer people to serve openly in the military) until the lame duck session after they lost their majority in the first midterm.
Yes, I agree with the blogger I alluded to above that it is on us to show up and vote. It’s on us to encourage others to show up and vote. But one of the ways we can encourage them to do that, is to give them candidates they actually believe in.
I’m looking at races this week where the milquetoast right-of-center candidate backed by the establishment Dems lost to a left-of-center candidate who enunciated some progressive ideas. I’m noticing that those are the races where people are turning out. I’m noticing that turn out is typical or less than typical in races where the only choices progressive voters are getting is several right-of-center safe bets.
That’s why, after a rather long discussion with a poor schmuck working the phone bank for the DCCC trying to convince me to increase my monthly donation to the DCCC because taking back the House is important, that I stopped my monthly donation to the DCCC, and increased the amount I’m giving every month to Run For Something and Let America Vote. And I’m going to keep picking actual progressive candidates to donate to directly.
And don’t bark at me about showing up. I’ve been showing up at Primary and General Election since 1978. Every one. I confess that I have missed about three Special Elections that happened way off-cycle in that time.
Now, we just need to get the rest of the liberals to do the same.
Several of these angry responses were in direct reply to a post or comment about the Senate. I’m laughing and crying at these responses, because gerrymandering has nothing to do with the Senate. Senate races are statewide elections. No one gets to artificially carve out weirdly shaped voting districts for those races.
To be fair, there are still plenty of ways that the system is gamed. But not voting because some shady stuff continues to happen isn’t going to fix those problems. Just like the idiots who say to vote, but turn in a blank ballot as a protest aren’t going to fix the problem. The system doesn’t work that way. Blank votes simply aren’t counted.
The only way to fix the problem is to participate, not just in voting, but actually paying attention to what the candidates you can vote for (and against) are saying and doing. If you’re one of those people who claim it doesn’t matter because they’re all corrupt, that’s just proof that you’re an ignorant, lazy, irresponsible ass. And yes, I can and do blame you for that.
The last four years, with the Know-Nothing, Teabagistan-dominated House stopping just about any and all legislation has been pretty ugly. In some ways giving those same obstructionists slim control of the Senate isn’t going to change how little actually gets done. But it is going to increase the ugly and the stupid. Real people are going to continue dying needlessly because of cuts to the social safety net. Real people are going to continue to see their financial situations get worse and worse while the billionaires keep raking it in (talk about wealth re-distribution! The Republicans are all in favor of that, as long as it keeps flowing up).
It’s not going to be pretty.