Friday, August 6, 2010

The election is coming! The election is coming!

I wrote this for our local paper, the Southside Pride, but they didn't have space for it in the edition that comes out for our neighborhood. It will be published next week in another neighborhood's paper. I'm kind of bummed it didn't make it in our neighborhood's edition because I want us to all get out and vote. Oh well. This is geared toward Minnesota, but I suppose it could be helpful for anyone out there.

It’s that time of year again. Political lawn signs are popping up like dandelions, our mailboxes are filling with flyers and brochures, the door-knockers are out, and the media is full of stories of who to vote for and who not to vote for. Since the “vote for me!” and “vote for him/her!” stories abound, this article isn’t about any particular candidate, but about the act of voting itself.

With the primary fast approaching (August 10) I want to share with you a list of reasons not to vote (and why I think those reasons are ridiculous).

One reason is: “I don’t have time to vote!” Yes, Election Day is only one day, but the polls are open all day, from 7am to 8pm. Also, every eligible citizen has the right to vote (see the eligibility disqualifications listed on the Minneapolis Elections website) which means your employer has to give you the opportunity to go and vote. “What if I’m going to be out of town on Election Day?” That’s no excuse either. Minneapolis provides absentee voting for just such a reason (and several other reasons). You can absentee vote in person at City Hall starting 46 days prior to any election. That means you can go and vote right now. You can also register to vote and vote absentee through the mail – without ever having to leave your home. So you see, you have plenty of time to vote!

Another reason is: “But I’m not registered to vote” or “It’s too hard to register.” That is ridiculous. Minneapolis makes it incredibly easy to register to vote and you can even register on Election Day at your polling place. Just ask the over 50,000 people who registered to vote on Election Day in 2008.

How do you register on Election Day? First, find out where your polling place is. You can find this on the City of Minneapolis elections website. If you don’t have access to that, stop in at any polling place you see and ask. The Election Judges can help you find your polling place. When you find the right place, bring a current Minnesota photo ID: driver’s license, permit, ID card, tribal ID. There are a couple other things you can bring – check the Elections website for the list. If you don’t have a current MN ID, you can bring in an expired ID and a current utility bill (as usual, see the Elections website for details). The list of approved documents and options for registering is so long, it’s almost impossible not to register! It may take a little work on your part, but it’s certainly not “too hard” to register to vote.

Another reason not to vote may be: “It’s too hard to vote.” By that I mean there are so many candidates, so many options, which do you choose!? Yes, there can be a lot of candidates to choose from and it takes some time to research all the options. If you decide to take the plunge there is help. The League of Women Voters and the League of Young Voters often publish voting guides, as do newspapers and other sources. Do a search online for voting guides and see what turns up. Think about your values and beliefs and vote for the candidates who match those (and please don’t vote for a candidate just because they’re a particular party!).

Some of you may be saying: “The elections are all rigged anyway, so why vote?” Ah the conspiracy theorists. Sometimes the evidence seems overwhelming, but I’m not going to let that stop me from voting. If we all stop voting then there will be no elections and where does that leave us? There are arguments for different kinds of government, but I’ll let someone else write that article. This is the government we have and voting is one of the ways we can participate. Until we have a different government I am going to keep voting. If you want to keep an eye on things, become an Election Judge. All those people in the polling places that help you register and vote are your neighbors.

And by the way, some of you may be thinking of skipping the Primary on August 10 because it’s “not as important” as the general election in November. Think again! The Primary will be nominating the candidates that you’ll see in the general election. If the candidate you like loses in the Primary, you won’t be able to vote for them in November!

I know some of you are using these excuses, or others, because voter turnout isn’t so good around here. Actually, Minnesota in general has some of the highest voter turnout percentages in the nation. But still, we haven’t reached 80% voter turnout in over 50 years. That means every year there are almost one million eligible voters who don’t vote (and that’s just in Minnesota!).

That’s pretty embarrassing for a country that considers our selves the “guardians of democracy.”

I admit to having a higher sense of our voting responsibilities since I became an election judge two years ago. Every election, primary and general, I sit in my assigned polling place ready to help people in my ward register and vote.

And every election I am stunned by the lack of voter turnout. People forget, they don’t care, they don’t have time, they think it’s too difficult, or doesn’t matter. Shame on us who have become so indifferent and complacent that we don’t care about voting anymore. We need a reminder of our history. It was less than 250 years ago that we were fighting to be our own nation, fighting for the right to vote, decide on our own representatives and our own laws. You women out there, we only gained the right to vote 90 years ago. Women in the suffrage movement were jailed (and worse) as they fought for the right to vote. Do we now take voting for granted?

Your excuses have been laid to rest. I hope you will join me on August 10th and November 2nd as we vote for Minneapolis School Board members, Minnesota governor, and new Representatives. (And if you want to be an election judge, check out the Elections website for details on how to apply.) See you at the polls!

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