Should you vote or not?

Image: NAIL Communications via YouTube

I see many, many posts, videos, and tweets telling people to vote. Meanwhile, 10,000 Twitter bots are apparently telling you not to vote. So which should you do?

This election is a referendum on the policies of Donald Trump. But if you go to the voting booth, you will find you cannot vote for him or for someone else you would prefer to be president.

Even so, it’s worth asking, “How did we get where we are?”

The question of how Donald Trump got elected has been analyzed ad nauseam. But briefly:

  • A lot of people were fed up with Washington and wanted something completely different.
  • Some found Hillary Clinton a little shrill.
  • Trump said whatever came to him in the moment, and that sounded very genuine.
  • Based on predictions from the likes of The New York Times, people thought Clinton was a lock to be elected, so their votes for Trump would register as a protest.
  • A significant number of people also voted for third-party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, probably because they thought Clinton would win regardless.
  • Enough of the people who felt this way voted in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to swing those states, and the election.

You can argue these points all you want, but here’s what I didn’t see enough of: people who carefully considered whether the nation would be better off with the policies and attitudes that Trump proposed rather than the ones that Clinton proposed.

Vote smart or don’t vote

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that parties should win elections because they can get more ignorant people to vote for them than the number of ignorant people voting for the other guys.

So unlike all my friends, I’m not going to tell you to vote. I’m going to tell you to think first.

Nate Silver says there is an 86% chance that Democrats will end up with a majority in the House of Representatives, and an 86% chance that Republicans will control the Senate. But as we learned in 2016, that means there’s a 14% chance it could go the other way in either chamber. On any given day, it is probably not Tuesday, but once a week — 14% of the time — it is. Tuesday is not an unusual occurrence, and neither is a 14% likelihood outcome in an election. Your vote will make the difference in that. So don’t imagine that your vote doesn’t matter.

So what should you vote for, if you vote at all?

Let’s start with President Trump. You can’t vote for him. But you can vote for people who will support or oppose him in Congress.

If you have carefully researched President Trump’s positions and are in support of nearly all of them, you could vote Republican. These positions include sending 15,000 troops to the Texas border to defend our country against migrants who are 800 miles away, denying the existence of transgender people, and saying things that are obviously not true, like that he will pass a tax cut before the election when Congress is not in session, and that our contract to sell arms to Saudi Arabia will generate 1 million US jobs. If that all sounds great to you, show your support and vote Republican.

However, if you are voting because you feel emotional about Making America Great Again, and without a careful consideration of these facts, then by all means, go to rallies and shout, but please don’t vote. There are enough ignorant people voting. Go stream The Walking Dead or play Overwatch tomorrow instead.

If you feel that President Trump ought not to be able to do whatever he wants, regardless of the decisions of courts or Congress, and that our president shouldn’t make up his own facts, then vote for Democrats for senator or representative. This is your big chance to change what happens with our federal government. There won’t be another one for two years, and a lot is going to happen in the next two years. If Democrats’ positions bother you, well, you’ll have a chance to vote again in 2020, but for now, a vote for Democrats is a vote against Trump’s policies and methods. Even if you’re a traditional Republican, you’ll be in good company: stalwart Republicans like Ana Navarro, George Will, and David Frum are voting for Democrats this time around.

If you don’t care that much about politics, I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the last two years, but sure, don’t vote. But if you’re unhappy with proposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare, or with the end of your health insurance covering pre-existing conditions, or with the state of the roads, bridges, and airports you use, then don’t imagine that you had no warning. This is your chance to decide what happens with those things.

What about state and local elections?

There are lots of other people and questions on your ballot. What should you do about those?

Let’s start with your state representatives or senators. These people are, or ought to be, concerned about local issues. Should you vote based on their positions?

Certainly. If you don’t know their positions, it would make sense not to vote. But before you decide not to vote, consider one thing.

Your state representatives are going to decide on the congressional districts in your state, starting in 2020. If your state is gerrymandered, then these representatives are trying to make your vote count for less. So check out this chart about where congressional maps are creating inequities in representation.

Graphic: Azavea

So if you live in North Carolina, Michigan, New York, or Texas, you might want to vote for Democrats in your state legislature to get them to fix this. (The courts already fixed it in Pennsylvania.)

What about ballot questions? These issues are complicated. If you look online or in your local newspaper, you’ll see extensive research on different positions. If you take the time to read this research and decide, vote on those ballot questions. If you make your decision solely based on fear-mongering political ads on television, please don’t vote on the questions.

What about the local officials — your mayor, your town council? I don’t think party matters so much for these folks. If you like what they are promising to do for your town, vote for them. If you’re not sure, don’t vote.

Finally, if you’re voting for governor, there is usually lots of information about the candidates and their positions, and if they’re been running the state for a while, they have a record. The governors don’t vote for or against Trump, although they may determine how to apply or resist his policies in your state. Don’t vote for governor to “send a message” to Trump, for or against. Vote for the person who will effectively run your state the way you want it to be run.

Ignorance is curable

If you’re ignorant about politics — if it just seems to contentious and full of lies right now — you have my sympathy.

But there is more information available about politics now than ever before. There are a wide variety of news sources.

Ignorant people voting got us the American government we have today. If you insist on being ignorant and shutting out all information you don’t want to hear, please don’t vote.

But if you have any self respect, learn a little. Then vote. We need smart voters now, and you have everything you need to become one of them.

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One Comment

  1. I read a letter to the editor in the SF Chronicle from Michelle Wang of Mountain View explaining why millennials feel apathy for voting. She took a couple hundred words to say that it’s because the system is broken. Tell me something I don’t know.

    But a big part of what is broken in the system is that Michelle and people like her do not understand they have a role to play. We have a responsibility to fix what’s broken. We can’t wait for someone else. It’s our own future that is at stake. It’s our own life that’s at stake.

    I watched Pod Save America the other night. They said that non-voters aren’t really undecided or even apathetic. They are passionate about their excuses for not voting. When you decide not to vote, you are handing someone else your voice. Maybe you’re okay with that, but I’m not.