It’s that time again: election time. I recently received my California General Election information guide in the mail, along with my absentee ballot (I’m on the permanent absentee ballot list because I find it encourages me to vote). And once more I prepare to climb into the morass of trying to figure out who and what to vote for, which involves trying to find information about people I’ve never heard of and wading through dense legalese.
Some quick statistics, based on numbers I found here and here. California has an estimated 18-and-over population of 27.7 million. As of April of this year, there were 16.9 million registered voters in the state. Some easy math tells us that only about 61% of those over 18 are even registered to vote (leaving over 10 million adults in the dust). And of course, just because someone is registered doesn’t mean they’ll actually cast a vote in any particular election.
Voting is very important to me. I feel lucky to have the chance to participate in my government and to have duties as a citizen. But when I’m faced with my 127-page information guide (which does come in languages besides English, I am happy to say, although how easy it is to obtain one in the correct language is outside of my experience), I’m not so shocked that only sixty percent of those eligible elect to participate (or even have the possibility of participation). In fact, I’m surprised it’s that many.
(By the way, my actual ballot is printed in both English and Spanish. Good move, whoever is in charge of such things.)
It takes a lot of time for me to vote, and it causes me a fair amount of anxiety. I read the text of each proposition carefully, trying to understand what it actually says, and I usually pop on the internet and have a look at the opinions of a few established groups. And then I hope I’m actually understanding something outside of my expertise and cast my vote. In this year’s election, I will go through this process ten times, once for each proposition.
And then there are the elections for mysterious positions such as State Controller, Insurance Commissioner, Board of Equalization members, and Water District Director. (Thank goodness my handy guide tells me what these positions are because otherwise I might not know.) Meanwhile, I’m just feeling relief that there don’t seem to be any local elections this time around, with all kinds of City Council members, Judges, and assorted bureaucrats who aren’t even associated with political parties in case I need to fall back on blind party voting. (EDIT: Oh no, wait, there are City Council members up this year. Sigh.)
Then there’s the propaganda problem. Thankfully I don’t watch TV so at least I miss the commercials, but when digging through available information, how do I know who to believe? And while I’m willing to dig through the voting records of presidential candidates (during primary time, since by the final election I only have two choices anyway), do I really have time to do so for every single candidate on the ballot? Hmm.
So I muddle through the ballot, doing my best to make responsible, informed decisions and sometimes falling short. If I weren’t so personally invested in my voting rights, I could see getting lazy and just not bothering with the whole thing, since it often results in my feeling helpless and/or stupid. Yet another instance in which my stubbornness comes in handy, forcing me to do the right thing.
Because voting is the right thing. No matter how unpleasant or confusing, no matter how complicated or mysterious, casting my vote is a concrete action in the face of widespread apathy and ignorance. It says that I care about my country, I care about my fellow citizens, and I care about my hard-earned right to have a say. It says that I’m not taking the status quo for granted. It says that I believe each one of us is involved in creating the world we live in.
Are you planning to vote in November? If not, I hope you consider changing your mind and joining me in the baffling yet important process of participating in our government.