Ready, Set, Vote

Primary elections are over and now it’s time citizens go to work. Just in case you’ve been living in a tree, we have mid-term elections coming up in seven weeks.

In our republic we like to say we get to choose our representatives. That isn’t exactly accurate. Candidates choose to run and then we get to elect someone from the cache of interested parties. Well, those who wish to have run their primary races and all the slates are set. All that remains is for us to choose. Voting is the most important act bestowed upon us as citizens.

Serving as an elected official has two distinct phases. The first is the one we are in now–the partisan, theoretically dominated time when office seekers try to win our vote. During this time candidates have no legislative duties and are encouraged to be partisan, tell what they would do if elected, what their opponents would do differently, and play up to the crowds–they’re applying for the job. Some love this aspect of politics, others hate it. The second part of the job is, after elected, to become bipartisan, use compromise skills, and change focus from party and pure theory to what is right and good for the represented masses. This is the harder part of the job that takes the most thought and skill. Many who get elected find, after the shouting and cheering, that they don’t like this part much, or worse yet, aren’t very good at it.

Some develop the skills to be good legislators over time. They find they like the work and have the skills to be successful. It is our job to figure out who those people are. They aren’t always the most popular, or the most vocal, or the ones who have the gift of gab. They are often the nerds who know how to buckle down and tackle tough tasks. It is in this area where term limits are dangerous. If an elected pol becomes a skilled legislator, likes the job, and does good work for the people only to run up against a term limit, losing what they think may be the best job ever, that is a loss for the U.S. If a candidate becomes an elected official and finds it isn’t for them or doesn’t do good work, it shouldn’t be up to term limits. We need to vote them out. Constantly filling the Senate, the House of Representatives, and state legislatures with new, inexperienced people simply because we don’t want to do our jobs as citizens to evaluate candidates and vote in the best possible people, leads to confusion, mistakes, and little legislative progress. Ideally a mix of experience and young, eager to learn enthusiasm seems like the best mix.

Finding the right candidate takes work on our part. There is a lot of noise and, unfortunately, a lot of false or, at best, misleading information fueled by just an extraordinary amount of money donated by people who most often have their own agenda and are not necessarily showing real concern for the welfare of the country as a whole. In most cases voters cannot even find out who these people are and what their hidden agenda may be. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission from 2010 that allows what has become known as “dark money” to be anonymously given in unlimited amounts by individuals and corporations under the guise of “free speech” may be one of the worst high-court decisions in history. We need information to make the crucial decisions necessary to evaluate candidates and this law puts major blockades in the road to clear understanding.

None-the-less, we-the-people must push on. It is our job to select the very best people available to represent us and make choices that affect our lives, the will of our states, and the good of our country. The next seven weeks will be a circus with more than three rings going on simultaneously to get your attention and distract from the main event. Some try to limit access to voting by placing restrictions or demands on individuals. Some try to limit access by taking away the actual polls, making getting into a voting booth more challenging logistically and more an investment of time. Some try to limit voting by simply creating fear that something will go wrong, that there are illegal voters, and that elections are rigged anyway, so there is no need for individuals to vote. Please, don’t give in to any of these tactics.

We fought the battles to open voting booths to everyone for years with much blood. But, those interested in limited votes in our elections are still testing the integrity of our system. To our credit, the system seems to be holding. There is no evidence of voter fraud beyond a sliver of people each year getting caught. Illegal immigrants do not vote–that privilege is saved exclusively for citizens. There is no one who can legally stop your vote from getting counted.

Our voting process is what sets us apart from many other countries and it is what makes us the envy of those who do not have that privilege/responsibility. No one need know how you vote. No one can force your vote. Do your research and make open-minded decisions over the next several weeks–there will be plenty of information for you to filter through. Then make a Herculean effort to glean the time, get to the polls, and vote your informed conscience without fear. Be a proud voter. It is that important.

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