I have never missed an election – local, state nor federal – since I was first able to vote when I was 18. I am so grateful to be able to vote openly and without fear here in the United States, and it distresses me that so many Americans don’t vote. In most elections, only half those who are eligible vote on election day. In local elections, the turnout is always lower: often less than 25% of eligible voters vote! Local elections are as important, if not more so, than federal (national) elections, because the winning candidates on the local ballot not only decide how your community is being run, but they will often rise up the political ranks to national posts. Local issues are also more likely to affect your daily life. We must not take our right to vote freely for granted, because without a vigilant and involved populace, our government will become all-powerful and corrupt. When I think of the suffragette (women’s right to vote) movement and the civil rights movement, and how hard they worked to win the right to an equal vote for women and minorities, it seems so disrespectful to not honour their courage.
Even before I was old enough to vote, I was passing out leaflets for independent presidential candidate John Anderson in 1980. My first polling place was the main lifeguard tower on Venice Beach, near where I was living. Since then, I have voted in a church, a health club, a neighborhood garage, a school and a pizza parlour. All those places are appropriate, as I consider voting a spiritual exercise and, like going to a health club, I always feel good afterwards. It builds my sense of community and I always learn something when I am researching who the candidates are and what measures are on the ballot. As for the pizza parlor… well, voting is fun!
I think voting is such a wonderful thing that I have been a volunteer with The First Vote since 1988. Each week I register with my friend and TFV founder Chuck Levin outside a donut shop in Los Angeles. A common reason I hear from non-voters explaining their lack of participation is that they aren’t into politics and they don’t know much about the issues or the politicians. I understand this thinking, but I am here to tell you that it isn’t that hard to become an informed voter, and it doesn’t take much time. For an hour or so before each election, Ian and I take our sample ballots and the local papers whose politics we most ascribe to. We read through the issues and discuss them and then we check what the paper says to get more information. I often call my friend Steve, who knows a lot about the candidates, if I don’t know for whom to vote. I also have a liberal lawyer friend whom I call about the judges – I don’t know anything about judges! I don’t take a lot of stock in the blurbs the candidates write up for themselves, or the flyers that appear at my door. And I CERTAINLY won’t watch those political television ads for information on any matter! I advise you to ignore political flyers and television ads – can you say obfuscation, obfuscation, obfuscation? Websites are now a good way to get more information – go to the websites of candidates and read what they have already accomplished. This is a better indicator of what kind of representative they will be than what they say in speeches and soundbites.
A lot of Americans are cynical about politics. Perhaps even you think, “Ah, those politicians are all crooks”. I don’t believe that. In fact, I think there are more smart, honorable, hardworking politicians than not. I have met many who care deeply about the environment: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, California State Senators Tom Torlekson, Sheila Kuehl and Tom Hayden, California Assemblyman Paul Koretz, Madeleine Albright, and U.S. Senator Paul Simon to name a few.
Voting is an important way to save the environment. Without environmental legislation put forth by politicians, we would be drilling for new oil sites off the California coast, there would be lethal doses of chemicals in our water, cars would get even worse gas mileage than they do now. There would be no endangered species protection. Factories would release toxins at will. These are enforcements at the local, state and federal level, which is just another reason why ALL elections are vital!
I want Americans of every philosophy to register! All sides must be represented at the polls to have a truly fair election. I have respect for every voter, no matter their point of view. It is the non-voters that make me fear for the future of our country.
I hope that if you are thinking you are too busy, too uninformed, or too fed up to vote, you will reconsider. America cannot function as a democracy without more of its citizens being involved. Our environment will not be saved unless good politicians are elected. It is our duty to vote.