Posted on October 30, 2018 at 6:00 am
When I was small, accompanying my parents to the poll was a family ritual. My parents would get shoes and coats on all of us, which was quite a feat, as there seemed to be an additional child with every presidential election cycle, and we would walk down the polling station. Some years it rained, but that just meant we got to goof off with umbrellas all the way there.
I can’t remember how it was decided each election year, but I must have made the cut at least once to accompany mom into the polling booth because I can remember what the inside looked like. I liked the poky thing on the chain and the sound it made as my mom used it to punch her ballot. I also remember wearing my “I Voted” sticker with pride for the rest of the day.
Now that Washington has moved to a mail-in ballot election system, my family ritual is much less fun. It looks like this:
On Election Day…
6:30pm – I get home from work, tear open my ballot envelope, and start madly Google searching propositions and candidates on my laptop while my stomach loudly protests, “What about dinner?”
6:45pm – My mom calls and asks, “Have you got to the judges yet? What did you find out about judges?!” In the background, I can hear my dad typing franticly. Mom says he is searching for data on the candidates for county assessor. Come to think of it, what makes a good county assessor anyway?
7:35pm – This year’s designated family member (perhaps my sister) jumps in the car and screeches through the neighborhood collecting ballots from the family households.
7:58pm – The designated family member pulls into the library parking lot, dashes out of the car, and stuffs the ballots into the box as the poll attendant stands with key in hand ready to lock it up for the night.
There has to be a better way.
So, this year I propose a new ritual: The Voting Party.
Here’s how I envision it…
A week before Election Day, my voting age family members arrive at my house with laptops, voter’s guides, and ballots in hand. The smell of hot cider and pumpkin baked goods wafts through the house. We settle into comfy chairs with our refreshments.
We divide the ballot into sections and each pick one to research. A peaceful silence settles as we each dig into researching our topic.
An hour later, everyone reports back with pros and cons of an issue or candidate, and discussion follows.
Those who come to a decision during discussion can mark up their ballot then and there. Those who still have unanswered questions can jot them down and research them further. After all, Election Day is still a week away!
Big caveat: This proposal will only work with a group of people who will commit to discussing politics together in a civil manner.
Civility is hard even if everyone in the room shares similar political views. But civility is worth striving for. I think your good-citizen points should double if you commit to spending the entire evening without using hyperbole when describing an opposing party’s argument.
This is very hard, and yes it’s crucial for civility.
Back to the Voting Party ritual: When we’ve researched and discussed every section of the ballot, it’s time for a second round of refreshments (with or without alcohol, your choice) and a movie, board game, or walk—whatever your group enjoys!
So, that’s the Voting Party, maybe even a new Washingtonian ritual. Who’s with me? I hope you are.
For your own Voting Party or solo research, here are some resources. Google searches are a fine start. With local issues, you may have to do further digging to get at the information you need. Here are some suggested starting places:
The Voter’s Pamphlet
The best starting place is the Voter’s Pamphlet published by the office of the Secretary of State. This includes arguments for and against initiatives, the full text of every ballot initiative, plus bios and statements of candidates.
The Voter’s Pamphlet includes information on candidates and initiatives for a wider coverage area that may not appear on your ballot. For a personalized voter’s guide that only covers issues on your ballot, you can login to My Vote with your name and birthdate. Once you are logged in, you can click on Voter’s Guide to see only those pages of the Voter’s Pamphlet that pertain to you.
The Public Disclosure Commission
If you want to know who is financially supporting a particular initiative or candidate, visit the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission’s website. There you can type in an initiative number or candidate’s name and see who supported it,and how much they gave.
Local news outlets run stories about local initiatives and interviews with local candidates. Be sure to check news from multiple sources to get all sides of an issue.
Here are some local news outlets that have their election-related stories conveniently sorted on one page:
Here are some other local Spokane news outlets that may require a bit of digging in order to see all of their election coverage:
A lot of work goes into casting an informed vote. And yes, it’s the only way democracy will work. This year, I encourage you to commit to making your voting ritual as meaningful (and fun!) as possible. I know I will.