In 2014, I volunteered for a friend’s city council campaign. What started as a simple request to help him and his manager understand the software they were using to keep track of voters turned into a full-time job that consumed my summer and autumn. It was exhausting and exasperating, but, for a political junkie like me, it was the equivalent of sitting in the stands at a baseball game and having the manager ask you to put on a uniform and take to the field. Despite my friend losing, I learned a lot about political campaigns, except for one thing: how to get people to vote.
And I don’t mean “how to get people to vote for my candidate,” though if I’d learned that I would now be a political consultant with a sweet hourly rate. I mean convincing the great masses to get off their duffs and go into a booth and punch (or mark or boop or spit on) a ballot. I grew up knowing voting was important. My parents made it quite clear that, when my brother and I turned eighteen, we would vote because there were members of our family who couldn’t. Granted, that family in far-off Lithuania got to have real elections not long after, but the message stuck: voting is really goddamn important, and you’d better do it or else you’re not going to get pie (which, in my house, was a threat that had teeth).
So, zip forward twenty-two years, and, here I am, crunching numbers and ticking off donations and doing campaign work that is meaningful and also doesn’t require me talking with voters (’cause I paid those dues, man). The campaign chair sat down and made a spreadsheet of his predictions, and I nerded out and filled in a lot of historical data to help me determine my predictions. We both thought our candidate had a good shot, which certainly biased our numbers. I felt confident based on our operation.
In the end, we were all wrong, ’cause our guy came in seventh in a field of fourteen. What’s more, voter turnout was low. Super low. Ridiculously, hang-your-head-in-shame low. And this was in Santa Monica, which was supposed to be a magical place with an active, engaged citizenry that cared and thought and argued and really, really got the importance of voting.
What a crock of shit.
Out of 58,803 registered voters, 20,479 of them cast ballots. That’s 35%. In every other midterm election, the average turnout was 59% with little variation. In an important race that determined four city council seats, a property tax levy, the fate of the city’s airport, the vast majority of the city’s voters couldn’t give a shit.
This baffled me. This bothered me. This enraged me, and not just because I’d worked my tail off for the campaign. How could people not bother to vote?
I wish the city or a campaign or someone had thought to do some kind of survey to ask what the non-voters’ deal was, because the aftermath of that campaign lead to a whole slew of stuff happening that affected everyone’s daily lives. The city’s chattering classes are still chattering, but I haven’t heard any of them ask the important question: how the hell are we gonna get more people to vote?
I’m sure a lot of people would just point to Spider Jerusalem’s rant about voting and say, “See? That’s why.” I get it. The choices suck. There’s too much money in politics. The candidates are all corrupt. The system is rigged. I can’t do anything.
What a crock of shit.
You have a vote, and you can use it. You can vote down some stupid ballot initiatives. You can vote up that candidate you believe in. You can write in someone who’s better qualified for the job. And, if you convince enough people to side with you, you win. That poor doomed fucker in Spider’s rant didn’t try to negotiate with the freaks and get them to change their minds. He didn’t campaign. He just sat there and merrily voted and threw up his hands in disgust as he got switchbladed. “Oh, well. No one voted with me.”
Campaigning is hard and boring and soul-crushing, but getting people to vote shouldn’t be, because it has consequences that you will feel right away. And I’m not just talking about the big showdown at the top of the ticket. I’m talking about the people who represent you in state and local government. I’m talking about the little ballot initiatives that pop up out of nowhere. If you sit out, you’re going to feel the results. You have every right to complain, sure, but those of us who voted will look at you and think, “God, what a jerk.”
And if you don’t like the candidates, then run. Running is easy to do. Look at your ballot and you’ll see plenty of people who did the legwork and got on. Yes, it’s a big pain in the ass to be a presidential candidate, but not for something like city council. If you’re serious about your beliefs, then you should run. Yes, even you Nazis. Go ahead and run for city council. If anything else, you’ll probably drive up the number of people who actually vote.
I don’t know what’s going to happen on November 8. What I hope will happen is that a lot of people will vote for Hillary Clinton and send the Combover Fascist to the dustbin of history. And then I hope everyone else will sit down and figure out how to safeguard everyone’s votes for real. None of this “the election is rigged” bullshit. I’m talking about ending gerrymandering and voter suppression and voter ID laws and all the other things designed to make people feel like their votes don’t matter. They do, but it takes a lot of them. Take your friends to the polls, but your friends to go to the polls, throw an election-watching party where only voters can come in. I did that once, much to my friend’s consternation, but it got her to register and vote. I don’t think she’s passed up an election since.
Do that, and maybe we’ll get through this without getting switchbladed.