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Living Life Well

Voting Matters
Living Life Well

 

By Jim Shere

Six years ago, just before everything became abruptly changed by the disruptive election of 2016, I wrote about how my parents approached voting. They seldom agreed politically, and as a campaign dragged on, their talk in the kitchen would continue long after we had gone to bed upstairs. Mom was a staunch Republican and believed in Pride of Ownership, while Dad was a vigorous Democrat who believed instead in The People. I once asked my mother why they bothered to vote at all, since their votes canceled one another out, and she explained that it was still most important to have the courage of your conviction and to vote your conscience. “Know where you stand,” she would say, “and stand there.” If there was any family motto, that was it — be who you are.

“Know what you believe,” she would say, “and why you believe it.” Drill down through the crust of transient impressions and reactive opinions, deep down beneath the reflex of contention to the foundation of your psyche, where you will find the bedrock of your conviction— what you know to be true about your fundamental values. Vote your conscience and not your opinion or the opinions of others. As Socrates famously said, know thyself.

Online surveys such as those found at politicalcompass.org and 8values.github.io help identify where you stand in the map of political affiliations. There, a social scale shows the spectrum from authoritarian to libertarian running north to south, and an economic scale running east to west showing the range from capitalism to socialism. Remember, these are only maps and not the territory, but they do provide a useful indication of where you may find yourself. A series of tests produced by Harvard’s Project Implicit, found at https:/implicit. harvard.edu/implicit/, indicates the biases that drive our opinions and help shape the unconscious attitudes that contribute to our political beliefs.

November’s official voters’ guide, already available at vig. cdn.sos.ca.gov/2022/general/ pdf/complete-vig.pdf, contains everything you need to know about the coming election — the people, the positions, and the issues. The California ballot itself will be mailed out Oct. 10, giving you the month until Nov. 8 to place your votes. Don’t rush to judgement, but do begin considering your decisions soon; take time to note the positions you’ll be voting on, and begin taking notes — because your vote on each office and each issue matters.

There are those of course who choose, for one reason or another, not to vote. About a third of us give up the right and responsibility to be heard and so lose the right to a legitimate complaint about our government. Those who hold strong opinions are more likely to vote, but there are others unwilling to put forward the effort it takes to participate, and others again who believe their vote simply doesn’t matter — but it does. According to the Census Bureau, 60% of eligible Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election, the most in three decades, — and so, over a third of us still don’t sufficiently care about who runs our country. That’s deeply troubling. There are those who believe it’s just as well and that the uninformed should not have a vote; laws are being written throughout the country to limit the electorate, yet there are others who believe everyone should educate themselves and vote accordingly.

The ballot includes a list of several federal, state, and local governmental positions, such as United States Senator, Governor of California, and candidates for city councils and school districts. When choosing the candidate you prefer for each office, do not allow your loyalty to any particular party blind you to the individual characteristics of the candidates and the positions that they seek. Read their literature carefully, and get to know each one well enough to find out why they are who they are — their actual accomplishment, and the practicality of their promises. Imagine that you are interviewing them for a very important job, and find what you believe is the best person for each office after studying what they have said and what they have done.

You will also be voting on a group of judges. In most cases we expect the candidate we vote for to act in our interest but, as the League of Women Voters states, “Judges are different from other elected officials; their role is to uphold the law, not represent voters.” Judges have been appointed to vacant positions throughout the year, but you will determine if they are qualified to remain seated. Qualities to look for include impartiality, equanimity, and commitment to the rule of law — rather than catering to public or personal opinions, including your own.

Your ballot concludes with several debatable propositions regarding certain changes in the law, each needing thoughtful consideration. In each case hundreds of thousands of people believed something was important enough to earn its place on the ballot. Consider who originated the proposition, who supports it, and why it has been proposed. Be particularly careful in accepting the published purpose, and learn who really stands to benefit if the proposition passes.

Take an active part in political discussions, listening and speaking, asking and answering questions, online and off; write letters to editors, and post statements on social media, for this is the time to speak up and make your thoughts and concerns part of the conversation. Talk with those you know in other parts of the country, and encourage them to do the same. Reach out to friends and family everywhere, and ask what they are reading and hearing and thinking. Let them know that you are interested and that you care — that it’s that important.

The final month before the election has always been a fraught season. Be aware of the rhetorical devices meant to stir strong feelings and drown out critical thinking about substantive issues, especially the ad hominem attacks and invectives that contribute little to the discussion except annoying static. And, remember, there is always the probability of an October Surprise — late-breaking news that will churn public opinion, perhaps in reaction to the anticipated publication of the January 6 Report, which is bound to stir controversy.

Over the past decade, as polarization has intensified, there has been a decided shift in how the two major parties view one another, from an objective difference in terms of policy toward a more subjective one of perceived morality. The Pew Research Center found that in 2016, half of Republicans and slightly more than a third of Democrats said those in the other party were more immoral than other Americans; today, they say 72% of Republicans regard Democrats as more immoral, and 63% of Democrats say the same about Republicans.

This seems to have been driven by the increasingly emotional rhetoric heard on talk radio and found in social media, and while there is increasing reason for mutual antipathy it only exacerbates the problem by making the reach across the aisle now seem a disloyal act of betrayal. Be especially on the watch for any bullying talk that implies the threat of violence. Discussions can easily become polemic, descending quickly into denouncements and diatribes, and although one side may want to reach concord, the other may want no such thing.

Ask what people want you to think, and distinguish opinion from fact in what they say. Listen for stereotypes and sweeping statements, and rather than focusing on personalities pay attention to issues — such as immigration, the environment, the economy, and the freedom of choice. Remember not to be argumentative but curious instead, and encourage the curiosity of others. Make room for discussion and discovery. If one of the campaigns captures your interest, join up, and volunteer to help promote the candidates and propositions that you believe in. If none inspire you to take part in any particular campaign, offer to help others to register, and volunteer to work at the polls. But, at the very least, vote.

Voting matters. It takes a village to care for the needs of the village, so understand that we are — each one of us — in fact a part of that community, and we each have our responsibility to it. Living life well includes being involved in the community we all belong to. Let your voice be heard, and let your choices be known, because — as my mother said — voting matters.

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