Take a quick glance at your ballot this election. If most of us are honest with ourselves, we haven’t a clue what many of the offices we’re voting for actually do, and what the limits and controls on their powers are. And we couldn’t even name most of our local elected officials, or know anything about the majority of people actually on the ballot. I don’t think there’s been any election in my lifetime that has even approached 2020’s in terms of people realizing (a) wow, that person’s vote actually counts the same as mine (b) wow, to what extent does my vote actually matter and (c) wow, what am I actually voting for, let’s not get complacent and fuck it up this time.
In trying to do the absolute most basic research and exercise a bare minimum of responsibility as a voting citizen, I came across the promising beginnings of one site, ballotpedia.org, where you can at least see some very basic information or links about candidates, including putting in your address and seeing who should be on your ballot. But in most cases this isn’t nearly enough. While some of the candidates maintain Twitters or Facebook pages that tell you all that you want to hear and know about their beliefs and platforms, many don’t, and you’d be hard pressed to get beyond the surface into their actual history of policymaking or voting regardless. What people say and how they present themselves can change any time for any reason, including party affiliations and official platforms, but what they’ve actually voted for, implemented, or supported doesn’t tend to radically shift as much. I’d sooner trust the record than the rhetoric.
This becomes even worse when considering a group that has a significant amount of power on determining the actual boundaries and shifts of state law, an electoral group that has alarmingly seen record-breaking increases in campaign spending across the country: the state supreme court. If I’m voting for state supreme court judges, who in my state serve for 14 years and are usually the actual nuts-and-bolts of legal rulings (in far greater frequency and abundance than federal courts) and whose decisions must also be federally respected, I shouldn’t have to conduct some detailed LexisNexis or other paywall search to see their histories. At the moment, the most information we can reasonably access is a quick judicial bio or C.V. But what law school someone went to and what academic honors they attained in the process tells me basically nothing. And that’s a scary thought when it comes to voting for people who are not only low-key extremely influential and powerful in adjudicating state and local policy (which tends to affect people’s lives in a most immediate and tangible way), but also have the highest degree of actual accountability through the democratic process because of much smaller voting bases and jurisdictions, in contrast to disgustingly gerrymandered races like the Presidential one.
I don’t think it should be that hard for the average voter to have quick and convenient access to candidates’ voting and policy histories. I think it should be legally mandated that such information be publicly disclosed and readily available. Obviously when it comes to judge’s rulings, it’s hard to separate interpretation and politicization from neat or oversimplified summaries of the cases they’ve ruled on and what their findings/opinions have been, but some version of that should be there and easily available for when people do want to take a look. Because it really does matter, and if you want to maximize your vote and awareness and avoid things being snuck under your nose, one cycle at a time, there must be a reasonable middle ground where your time and effort is met with transparency.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m only really scratching the surface on these issues…far more has been written and researched on these topics than what I can cobble together in a quick post. Learn and participate.