Being an Informed Voter.
August 5th, our next election day is rapidly approaching, with half of all voters beginning to vote as early as July 16th when early voting sites open.
As I started to think about the ballot and who I would like to hire for these positions, it dawned on me how difficult it is as a voter to stay informed and have knowledge of who the best candidate is for a given job. And while it has long been the hope and dream of the democratic process to have an “informed” electorate choose the best person for the job, all too often people are voting based on little to nothing information about the candidate. This isn’t surprising, considering how busy people are today.
I mean how feasible is it for people that have their own day to day concerns to take hours out of their schedule learning who truly will represent their best interest? It is even more difficult for people to get beyond who has the most money or the most well known name. Voters have to dig through the clutter of campaign messages, working a job (or even two jobs in some cases) and taking care of their families, all to learn about candidates running for positions they might not even be aware exist or what role they play in the persons live.
Certainly we know what our mayor and sheriff do, but how many voters understand the complexity of the Trustee’s role in government or the Register – both vital jobs, but not exciting enough to be on the nightly news. I know deep inside we want the best people for these jobs, that individual leader that will bring us closer to the almost mystical concept of good government, but can we really be expected to do more than vote just based on a jingle or cool campaign add?
Simply put, I answer YES. We must endeavor to turn ourselves into more than just a voter, we must transform ourselves into an informed voter or risk losing more than just money in the form of taxes – we could lose the very rights so many of us take for granted.
Candidates get that “we the people” aren’t taking the time to become truly informed. They even count on it. Some candidates go so far as to adjust their names so they end up the first or last position on the ballot – positions they believe voters pick with more frequency when they are just guessing.
Candidates are also using pure name recognition to get elected, maybe they are qualified, maybe not, but we should at least do some research (think Eddie Murphy in the 1992 comedy The Distinguished Gentleman, where a con man uses the passing of the long time Congressman from his district who he just happens to share a name with, to get elected to his version of paradise – US Congress. A move that is funny up to the point when you realize it could happen in real life).
We must truly become an informed electorate or we risk hiring people to steer the ship that don’t even know where the bridge is located. Year in and year out, we the people complain about the state of government, but luckily there is a cure – get better leadership to captain the ship. This is true for every elected position from the constitutional officer position – like trustee and register to mayor and the races for judges.
I understand how difficult it is to become an “informed” voter and not a “worn out, too tired to care” voter. Heck, I serve on the election commission and approved the ballot for the August elections and I have difficulty gathering information on every race and candidate. I especially have trouble with races for position like judge since I have limited involvement with the local courts. But when I begin to think about the decisions these judges will be making over the course of the next several years it would just be foolish to hire a person for a judgeship that isn’t qualified. Judges touch people’s lives in a very personal way, making decisions every day that directly impact families. How can I not become better informed?
I do not, however, want to leave you empty handed. So in an effort to help you become an “informed” voter I have put together the following, I hope it helps and please add any other sources in the comment section:
- Shelby County Election Commission – Learn your polling location, review candidates financial disclosures and many other useful tools. www.voteshelby.com
- Sample Ballot for August 5th:
- Shelby County Democratic Party – http://shelbydem.org/
- Shelby County Republican Party – http://www.shelbygop.org/elections/2010/080510election.html
- Coalition for a Better Memphis – rankings of candidates from the primary elections earlier this year. The general election for these positions is August 5th.
- Coalition for a Better Memphis – August 5th, 2010 rankings
- The Commercial Appeal 2010 Voters guide
- Memphis Bar Association – Review of judicial candidates
- Greater Memphis Chamber – A very resource driven site for voters http://www.voteformemphis.com/
And then I suggest you develop some rules to vote by.
Here are mine:
1. If you serve on a community group or nonprofit and I haven’t seen you in the past four years, but during election season you start showing up to meetings – I don’t vote for you.
2. If you are speaking with me and you are always looking past my shoulder to find a bigger better deal – I will not vote for you.
3. If you ask me for a campaign donation, but don’t ask for my vote – you won’t get it.
4. If you have not been involved in community service projects until recently, I just do not feel that you have enough experience to serve. Stay involved and try again in four year. Maybe next time I will vote for you.
5. I never will vote for a candidate that loses an election and then disappears until the next election. If we had problems you wanted to solve as an elected official, you should still be willing to solve those problems even if you lost the election. It is about creating a community of choice, and you do not have to be elected to have a positive impact on our community. If you abandon the community until the next election, you will never get my vote!
6. If professionals in a similar field endorse you, I will strongly consider voting for you. This is especially true of positions like judges. I really like to know what attorneys think of candidates for judge and CPA’s for the position of trustee. No endorsement – no vote.
7. I actually don’t mind a candidate flirting with my wife, she is pretty cute, unless the candidate is married. That just shows bad character. No vote for you!
8. I get recommendations from friends that work directly with government and learn who they are supporting – no recommendation – no vote!
9. They must know and understand the job – I don’t mind promises, but if the candidate is promising to stop illegal immigration and they are running for trustee or clerk, I am pretty sure they do not understand the job they are applying for. No vote for you.
Whoever is left standing after I ask myself these questions gets a complete review. I Google or Bing them, check out their website and then make a decision.
Remember voting has been around thousands of years and even during the age of Plato they knew the problems an uninformed electorate could cause: “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” (Plato)