Thursday, October 16, 2008

Voting Quandaries

(This is an off topic, but hopefully interesting, post!)

The first time I voted was in the 2000 election. I am quite ashamed to admit I didn't even know it was election day. I had graduated high school the previous June and met my soon-to-be husband that summer. I was pretty young and, well, pretty stupid. I mean, I hadn't even discovered NPR yet. I guess the worst part of it all was that I didn't even know who the candidates were.

It was a warm fall day, the prettiest kind of fall day with brightly colored leaves filtering the sunshine. My older brother, who had just returned from his mission and was in a couple classes with me at USU, let me know it was election day and threw me on the back of his motorcycle (he always let me wear the helmet; so chivalrous!) and drove me to our polling place--which turned out to be my old elementary school. The old ladies working the joint were overjoyed to see a first time voter and pointed me toward the booths with huge grins. I hurriedly asked my brother what to do. "Just mark the Republican box," he called out, "it's just one vote." And then he laughed. I think he voted for Ralph Nader.

When I exited the booth the old ladies proudly stuck an "I voted" sticker to me and showed me out the door. I took the sticker off and wondered if its declaration was true. Had I really voted? Did I make my voice heard? Or did I just waste a very large piece of paper?

Those questions brought me back to one of my earliest memories. I think it was the night George H. W. Bush was inaugurated. All I really remember was that it was extremely boring political thing and I thought it was SO strange that my parents were SO interested. At some point in the ceremony an American flag was raised and my parents stood and, with the hands over their hearts, recited the Pledge of Allegiance with everyone on TV. Now, to my six-year-old mind, this was patently uncool and I laughed as derisively as I could. My father turned a stern eye on me and told me to stand up. When I protested that I didn't know the Pledge both he and my mother stared at me. It took me a moment to register what their expression meant. The Pledge was practically over when I realized they were staring because they were appalled. They were disappointed. I stood up at the end but didn't know the words. I felt irredeemably empty.

That's how I felt that first Tuesday in November of 2000.

Of course, that election was a ridiculous one to learn on and what with getting married in the following year and then finishing my bachelor's the year after, somehow, becoming educated about politics fell lower and lower on my list. Don't get me wrong--I had tried. After September 11, 2001 you couldn't be American and not have some political leanings. We were in Iraq chasing down Saddam Hussein--who, I'm pretty sure, one of my seminary teachers listed as an Anti-Christ. So I listened to NPR and the BBC for hours everyday. I read the newspaper and The Atlantic. I even watched a couple State of the Union addresses. I found myself really liking Colin Powell and even liking the dude I'd voted for: George W. Bush.

Four years flew by and it was time to vote again. This time I at least knew the candidates names. But I didn't feel like I knew much more than that. Despite all the things I'd heard and read I still didn't understand the issues. I'd had my first baby and was wrapped up in the PPD and trying to make a new home in a new state. As I waited in line to vote in the 2004 election I realized I still had no clue what I was doing. I ended up voting for W because I liked how he quoted scripture and that he prayed every day and went running. They were weak but at least the second time I had reasons.

Since then I've added US News and World Report and Newsweek to my magazine subscriptions. I check the BBC online and talk politics with pretty much everyone and try to listen to their points of view. The West Wing and The McLaughlin Group are my favorite TV shows. I even watched ALL the debates, including the VP one (and the Saturday Night Live versions! What? A girl's gotta get some fun in somewhere). Here's the thing, though: I still don't know! I don't know who I'm going to vote for. I don't know what half the stuff on the ballot is about. I still don't know enough and I'm beginning to think I may never. It makes me want to give up.

The last two times I voted left me with regret and I don't want to feel that way again. So, there are eighteen days until I vote for the third time. What do I do in the mean time to figure this out? How do you all figure it out? Do you just go with your gut or is there a more cerebral process? Let me know! I could use some guidance!


Coffinberry said...

I cast my first vote for Geraldine Ferraro (ok, so it meant I voted for Mondale, really... but I was torqued at Reagan for taking away my long-expected college money AKA social security benefits for children of deceased workers).

I have never been so conflicted about a vote in my entire life as I am about this one (see my blog for dreams on the subject; and my dream-mind is now running repeats). My problem at the moment is that I'm so disgusted with both candidates that I just don't listen any more. And I am so irked at the extreme right-wing of the Republican party... well, I am at a loss for words to describe the depth of my irked-ness. On that point alone, I almost hope the Republicans lose this time around and maybe go down in flames to rise again a new-born phoenix without the extreme right-wing folks. My problem is, there is no Moderate party. I need a Moderate party (one that believes in statesmanship, honest compromise, representative government, personal responsibility, balanced application of the first amendment, clear separation of powers, and a long-term view of economics). Moderates, unfortunately, get entirely weeded out by the political process.

(I recently read a Law Review article that suggested we might be happier with our democracy if we could rank our choices, instead of being allowed to vote for only one. The highest weighted scorer wins. I think this writer has a good idea and is likely right, but our two-party one-man-one-vote system is pretty deeply entrenched.)

But you asked for practical decision-making tips. The only one I can give you is the one I keep coming back to: "It's all about the Nine." It's a constitutional issue, really. The person we elect is likely to have multiple opportunities to appoint justices to SCOTUS--that's the single biggest thing a President can do. So, the question then becomes, which person is more likely to nominate in accordance to the way I think government should go?

Using that criteria, I think I'm approaching an answer. But as a member of the judicial branch at the moment, I cannot say publicly what it is.

Coffinberry said...

While I'm at it, and for what it is worth, I will add a couple of paragraphs from a letter sent to my missionary son last week, wrapped in the package that had his ballot, his bluebook, his county guide, a copy of the Times-Call editorial page, and a king-size Reese's. (His brother got a similar package, except he was directed to read the Bluebook, County Guide, and editorial page online.) As you can tell below, I don't think much of the TABOR amendment of 1992. Your mileage may vary, and I will still like you!


You asked, in your e-mail, about why Colorado has amendments and such a long ballot. A little history is in order. Do you remember your US History of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Back then, politics all over the nation was pretty much handled in smoke-filled back rooms where party bosses made the decisions about who would represent the different constituencies, and who would be nominated. Colorado, being both a western state (therefore having a strong independent streak) and a fairly forward-looking state, decided that it was fundamentally un-democratic (in the democracy sense, not the party sense) to have party bosses dictate what law and representative government would be and do. Colorado was firmly entrenched in what at the time was called the “Progressive Movement,” which believed in the forward progress of humankind, and that if the people were allowed to knowledgably govern themselves, this progress would result in a superior society. (Ideas that came from the Progressive Movement have had many offshoots which continue to affect our lives today, including the Scouting Movement, universal public education, women’s voting, and civil rights.)

So, as part of this Progressive Movement in the early 1900’s, the state constitution put almost all control over lawmaking into the hands of the people via direct democracy. Indeed, under the Colorado Constitution, the laws made by the General Assembly (the name for our legislature) are not effective until they have been first turned over to a vote of the people for final approval. That applies to EVERY law. The only exception the constitution provided was if the assembly attested that the law was necessary to ensure the safety of the people or to meet an emergency need; and the assembly had to show why it was an emergency or safety issue. That is why you have statutes on the ballot—the assembly passed the law and the governor signed it, but the constitution requires the approval of the people before it can be enacted, because the assembly couldn’t say it was an emergency or a safety issue.

The same constitutional reform of the early 20th century also provided that the people themselves could directly amend the state constitution. Again, remember that these things were put in place to ensure that no political party could override the will of the people as a whole. If a principle of government could garner the support of enough people, the thinking was, it must be something that belongs in the constitution. In a way, this theory of government is in accord with the principle described by King Mosiah in Mosiah 29:26. The problem arises, as you noted, in that the people who have these ideas about government are not always clear about how the idea will interact with existing laws, or the effect that the idea will have down the road. Like the TABOR amendment, for example. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) was approved the fall that we moved here, in 1992. It was overwhelmingly approved by the people, because it sounded like such a good idea (and was perhaps oversimplified in advertising) that all tax increases should be approved by the people, and that the amount of money the state takes in for property tax shouldn’t go up just because property values go up. But the problem with it in practice is that when property values went up, demand for services (like schools, police, fire, etc.) went up but and the dollar revenue to provide those services remained the same. And when property values went down, the amount of income through taxes likewise went down, though the demand for services remained the same. Once the tax revenue went down because of the shrinking economy, no government could increase the revenue again when the economy got better without taking it to a vote of the people (and there are always people saying “you’re already taking enough of my money”—getting a tax increase is mighty hard). Thus the cyclical nature of the economy caused TABOR to act like a slowly tightening noose on government-provided services in Colorado.

This is the reason for the educational revenue overrides during the past couple of years. It finally occurred to many people that this ratchet-effect of TABOR was making it impossible for schools to educate children. Most school districts (except St. Vrain) have put in place overrides to support education. Higher education is really suffering, and so tuition for Colorado community colleges and universities has been skyrocketing. So those circumstances explain some of the ballot measures.

Anonymous said...

You are aware of my (anonymous here but for your benefit... I am would have been "TJ's" mother) conflict...and while I am faithfully following my father's example to never broadcast or divulge who/what I vote for, I clearly know who I am voting for.

I am weary of all the political bickering around me- so sick of it really. I anticipate it to continue indefinitely. If McCain gets in, all we'll hear is more of the disrespectful slashings that Bush faces every day and how McCain is more of the same. I have a hunch that whatever Obama touches will turn to gold-- according to how the media treats him now.

I say go for it Obama. Your list is ambitious. Can you really do it? Is it possible that any of your health care and environmental policies will make it through Congress? All the while I sincerely worry about his plan to withdraw our troops in three phases. Guess what? I bet if the date of the third phase of pull out it say August 1st, then August 1st in the afternoon we will see an insurgent group deliver upon their violent takeover of a neighborhood- slaughtering Iraqis. We put our hand in the pot, I don't conceive of how we can pull it out without setting them up for failure.

It is hard to choose one candidate like Coffinberry said. I like what one says about education. I like where one stands on war. I like where one stands on welfare. I have come to accept that it is difficult to stick with a candidate based on where they stand on one issue. There is way too much to weigh.

Best of luck. Remember, if it makes it easier on you, mums the word. Don't tell people, even dare I say your husband if it will help you be true to your beliefs.

My vote will "fall in the box" and I will walk away with hope for the future!

Kelly said...

My general feeling in voting is to vote no as much as possible for Colorado amendments and such. I try to promote as little change as possible.

My notable exception this year is my activism in getting 3A and 3B passed, but that's only because I help out in schools a lot, and I've never seen it this bad. We have got to help our schools, because honestly, that financial belt simply can't get any tighter.

Regarding the presidential election, I would totally vote for Alan Keyes if I thought my vote would do any good. Unfortunately, the reality is the President will likely be Obama or McCain, so I will vote for the least objectionable of the two, so that I will at least have some say in how things go down here in Colorado, especially since the race is so close.

How I get informed -- I read the newspaper and watch the news, I watch the debates, enjoy the SNL skits (liberal bias alert!). But as much as I would like to vote for the better man and not just the party, the reality is that it takes a whole party to make a presidency. Who will the President surround himself with on his cabinet? And yes, who will he appoint to the Supreme Court?

Also, my husband reads political blogs (a lot), listens to the political complaints of his parents, talks politics with his friends at work, and then tells me what he thinks -- a lot. He's pretty smart, and we tend to agree on a lot, so we tend to vote the same. Still, he's the one who put the McCain sign in the yard -- not me. And I'm the one who put the "Strong Schools Matter" sign in the yard -- not him. So now people can accuse me of being a Republican who wants taxes during tough financial times. What a hypocrite!

Heathie said...

I've actually been following politics this time around. I've watched a debate-and-a-half... I read a lot online about each candidate's plans for helping our country. For me the important issues are the economy and health care. I just came across an article on WebMD that outlines each candidate's health care plan, and I'm still looking for a non-biased recap of their tax plans though from what I heard on the latest debate neither plan is very good but I like Obama's better (mostly because it doesn't involve counting health insurance benefits as taxable income. Seriously--way to penalize people for trying to take care of their family).

Elizabeth-W said...

Great topic and thanks to Coffinberry for all her words! I totally agree with her on the Supreme Court issue.
For the past 3 elections I have voted 3rd party. I live in a extremely right wing state. I tend to vote Democrat in local elections and more conservatively on federal issues.
I think it's hard work to be an educated voter. But my guess is that most people vote based on sound bites.
In my temporal life I am a democrat. But in my spiritual life, I sometimes think God would prefer a Republican President, or at least a morally conservative one--which all goes back to issues related to the Proclamation on the Family. I don't know. My absentee ballot has been sitting on my dresser for at least a week.
For my local congressional seat, I can vote for a local Stake President (repub of course) or a lady who seems about 80 million times smarter. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.
I've never told anyone that I know personally (IRL) how I've voted. When pollsters call, I tell them things I don't really believe--I want to mess up the data. I'm a bad girl.

mom of boys said...

That is a tough question. Until now, I based my vote purely on moral issues. It was all I cared about and it was the only thing that, for me, had right and wrong answers. Tax plans? Well, one plan benefits this group, and one plan benefits another group, so what you want depends on what group you belong to. So no real right or wrong answers. So, I voted based on moral issues because that was something I had opinions about.

Today is a different story. With a family to care for, my husband starting a business and the war going on, suddenly tax plans and foreign policy are at the top of my list. So this election has been a new experience for me and I've had to re-evaluate how I make my decision. I still don't know who I'm voting for, I don't trust either of them. And I suspect I will be undecided till about, oh, around Nov.4th or so.

Politics have become so much more difficult since I started caring. :)

Charlotte said...

I dunno - I'm still stuck too. And it does seem like even after examining all the facts, it ends up being some dumb little thing taht finally tips the scale. Ah well. We do the best we can, right?

Misty Lynne said...

For me, I think the decision came back during the primaries when I took a "test" on my political leanings. My husband found a website that took you through a number of political issues with multiple choice answers that you could then weight according to your perceived importance. At the end, it showed you on a bar graph how well you matched up with all of the possible candidates.

I was actually a little surprised (and gratified) with the results. It was pretty clear cut where my leanings were, and I was pleased to see my favorite candidate at the top of the graph (I hadn't really studied the platforms yet).

Interesting to note though, both successful candidates were my top pick for each party. That sent me into uncertainty for some time. After the first debates, however, I realized that I simply agreed, once more, with the platform of one over the other.

So, maybe it would be easier to take a non-emotional look at the separate platforms, making a check mark for each side when you agree, possibly weighting those marks, and then tally them up. (You can even rate personality if you want to). Then go with whoever wins your tally.

Laura said...

Good points y'all. It's a lot more food for thought. . . I like the point about SCOTUS and I also REALLY like the idea of making a list of pros and cons.

I have to mention though, I almost make up my mind when I walked into a local campaign headquarters and was completely disgusted by some of the fear-mongering and bigotry demonstrated. Uh! To give it a fair chance though I feel like I have to go visit the other campaign headquarters just to so I can compare. I don't know though. I'm beginning to not care anymore!

Lisa said...

I think most everyone goes through this. I know I did.

It seems we're the same age: I graduated from high school in 1999 as well :)

I voted for W both times. The first time it was more because...well, my family *hated* Gore. The second time I knew a little more, felt a bit more confident in my Republican party (it seemed to go well enough with being newly LDS), and I liked the guy. I admit it.

Now I don't, though. The past few years have proven to be rather formative in that I've opened up my thoughts to allow things that aren't conservative/Republican...

It helps that my husband is a bit more politically conscious than I am, but if anything he's compelled me to research on my own.

I try to engage in various political discussions from either spectrum and though I remember my religious background, I also try to keep it out when appropriate.

That said, if you want to know why I'm voting for Barack Obama, you're more than welcome to visit my blog. See the individual entry itself, but there are others you might be interested in. You may find you disagree, but either way would be good.

Remember, things like abortion and whatnot *are* important, but other things are just as important and much more likely to be implemented.

I also recommend The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report for a bit of humor and even, at times, a sobering different look at the political topics du jour. :) and are also really great unbiased sources.