Democracy, Impact, and You

“Be the Change you Want to See in the World” - Maya Angelou

All of us want to have impact on our communities. We see issues, whether social, economic, or cultural, and feel the need to change them. On November 6th, we will answer the call of our country, following in the lead of great leaders such as Jefferson and Anthony and King, and realizing the vision they had. By doing so, we legitimize our government and remind our politicians that we hold them accountable for their actions. But perhaps more importantly, who holds office impacts our daily lives. Their policies and directives account for change in every aspect of our lives, impacting the socio-economic forces that, albeit subtly, determine the course of our lives.

All of this holds true whether we are voting for president or county sheriff. Yet invariably, voter turnout is significantly greater during Presidential election years. And even so, only 56% of eligible Americans voted in 2016. Compared to the rest of the developed world, these are abysmally low numbers. And in 2014, when we weren’t electing a president, only 37% of eligible Americans voted. Many people argue that one’s vote might not affect the outcome of election or that they simply don’t know or don’t care enough to vote. They make the exception for the President, however, because of the social and media hype around these elections. But even here, voter turnout is incredibly important: for example, George W Bush won the 2000 election by 537 votes, out of almost 105 million ballots cast. Clearly, individuals have high potential impact on the outcome of elections.

Ironically, individuals have even more impact on local elections than federal ones as less people turnout to vote, making those that do vote all the more powerful. And, despite the symbolism that goes along with being the President of the United States, local authorities likely have a greater impact on your day to day life. States and municipalities are responsible for maintaining schools, roads and infrastructure, health services, and most common laws. Electing Governors and State Senators into office who reflect your own priorities is essential, because otherwise your tax money can easily be misappropriated and put into programs or institutions you don’t value, or worse, hurt you. But it’s not just the big names on the ballot that are important. The Attorney General, for example, decides which cases to prosecute. He or she could, and does, choose to not prosecute certain cases or limit punishments due to a political belief; this happened often during the Jim Crow era for whites who assaulted blacks and is currently happening as a protest against the war on drugs. The Secretary of State oversees elections and citizen paperwork and is responsible for making sure our very democracy remains intact and stable. They could play a major role in executing voter ID laws. The Treasurer maintains the budget and makes sure funding is properly allocated as determined by the State Senate. And the Auditor is responsible for overseeing the entire Massachusetts government and preventing corruption. Each and every one of these jobs is essential to keep the state running and has an invisible yet very real impact on everyday life.

This November, Massachusetts will also be voting on three ballot questions, the results of which will determine state policy.

Question 1, which is discussed in detail here, applies to anyone who goes to a hospital: it wants to impose patient limits for each nurse. Voting yes would limit the amount of patients, and therefore purportedly increase quality of care and decrease strain on nurses, while a no vote would make no change to existing laws. The arguments for and against this bill are numerous and complicated, but the result will impact everyone.

Question 2, which is discussed in detail here, will have a long-standing impact on our entire democracy and might be the most important issue on the ballot. It seeks to overturn the court case Citizens United v. FEC, which essentially gave companies the right to spend as much money as they want on political advertising. This gives big companies a much larger say in politics, which they often use to push agendas that will benefit them financially. A yes vote on Question 2 would establish a committee what would attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to prevent this, while a no vote would do nothing.

Question 3, which is discussed in detail here, pertains to transgender rights. The question seeks to overturn existing law which prevents discrimination against transgender people in public spaces. A yes vote would maintain current law and prevent discrimination, while a no vote would change the law and allow discrimination.

Each of these issues will have a direct impact on the lives of individuals throughout the state. So I urge all of you, regardless of political stance, to vote as if it matters. Because it does. Because abstaining from the polls not only prevents your own voice from being heard, but also actively undermines the American system that has given our country so much. And yes, that system is far from perfect. But the only way to actually change it is to make your voice heard. So be the change you want to see in the world. Please vote on (or before) November 6. If you need to find out where or how to vote, check out MA’s voter information portal. And if you can’t vote, you can still encourage others to vote or get involved in other ways within your community.