California’s general election takes place next Tuesday, November 6th. If the pre-election polling statistics are accurate, there is a very good chance you will choose not to vote. This is a crushing fact to an ardent voter like myself. I believe voting is a cornerstone of democracy, so I want everyone to feel empowered to exercise their right to vote.
Over the past few months I have spoken to dozens of people who readily admit they plan not to vote, and many more claiming to have not yet decided whether to vote or not. I now understand many of these people share a similar barrier to voting. They don’t feel prepared to take an informed stand on the issues and candidates, so they decided it’s simply best to not vote at all. This is totally understandable to me. With all the angry advertisements, confusing ballot measures and polarizing political party rhetoric it is difficult to see through the spin and find the facts you need to make an educated decision. After all, there is a lot at stake and no one wants to make a bad voting choice or be labeled by their ballot decisions. It feels like your safest choice may be to simply not vote and spend another election cycle complaining about everyone else’s choices, not yours.
I think this is a learned behavior we have all experimented with in our lives. It is a bit like when you were in grade school and you felt unprepared for a big exam. The morning of the test you develop a sudden and severe illness that convinces Mom to keep you home for a sick day. Crisis averted, you didn’t fail the test. Not showing up can be a relieving tactic when feeling under pressure or unprepared.
But voting is not a test where you pass or fail. Unlike testing there are no incorrect choices in voting, you don’t have to complete the entire ballot to have your vote count and no one will ever grade you on your decisions (unless you choose to share them). Don’t let your desire to be perfectly informed on every measure or candidate keep you from voting on the few things that truly matter to you. Not every office and issue will equally resonate for you, but I bet a few of them do.
Even if there is only one candidate on the ballot you hope wins or another you really hope doesn’t win, just vote for that one issue. Do you feel strongly about housing, public safety, gas prices, education, health care or daylight savings (I am not making that up, it’s Prop 7)? If so, there is something meaty on this ballot for you to weigh in on. Give yourself permission to not understand every detail behind school bond tax calculations, or how state general obligation bonds are used to fund water projects. If you can’t figure out what the Insurance
Commissioner does, don’t get hung up on it. Skip the ones that you don’t feel comfortable with and jump to the votes you feel are yours to give.
If some months later you find out that you actually chose the wrong candidate or did not understand that voting “yes” on that proposition actually meant that is was repealed rather than ] ratified, just roll with it. No one is going to know how you voted, no one will knock on your door to confront you, and there will be no public shaming. It will all be fine, because you did the best you could with the information you had at the time.
So vote already.