Voting is the heart of democracy, an opportunity for citizens to choose their leaders, and adopt or reject new laws and tax measures. According to Thomas Paine, “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.”
Paine published this statement in 1795. It’d be 70 years before African Americans secured the right to vote, and more than hundred years after that until they achieved a modicum of unmolested ballot access throughout the United States. Women weren’t able to choose their representatives until 130 years had passed post Paine’s proclamation. Today, identification requirements and periodic eligibility purges, among other things, suppress voting entree in many states.
To vote is a sacred act. The ability to do so has been subject to a relentless civil war, to enhance or strangle access, loud and mostly silent, through much of American history. Yet, in California not even two-thirds of those eligible vote during national elections. Some nonvoters don’t believe anything will change whether or not they exercise their franchise; others can’t be bothered. But the truth is voting is hard, in ways well beyond queuing or posting mail-in ballots.
“We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to,” Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention.
No doubt. Most of us will take great delight in connecting the arrow to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, ejecting the Id in favor of the Ego. But before we put on those comfy shoes we need to secure our ballots, do our homework, evaluate multiple candidates for offices high and low, and many state and local ballot initiatives, sifting through a mix of propaganda, identity-politics endorsements and opaque legal language. Taken seriously, voting can feel as difficult and distasteful as doing taxes. Which is why fewer than half of eligible Californians turnout for local elections.
To help just a bit, the View has dedicated this issue to local measures and candidates. Not all of them, but as many as our capacity allowed. The attempt isn’t so much to endorse anything or anyone, though we do some of that, but to provide a kind of CliffsNotes to assist with ballot reading assignments.
For the sake of democracy, pour yourself your favorite all-natural, organically grown, fair trade, or better yet locally cultivated, stimulant, organize your study group, online or outside, and wade through the sometimes cloudy sometimes crystal clear political waters. If you can, get some joy from the exercise, the sensation of deciding what’s important to you, what’s not. Choose your representatives. Be not enslaved.