Seriously, don’t do it. Don’t vote. At least until after you’ve read this. And maybe not even then.
How can I be serious? People have fought and died for our right to vote. From the Civil War to women’s suffrage, true heroes have risked and sometimes given everything for us to have this privilege. Isn’t it our responsibility to exercise this right and participate in the democratic process? I still say no. Sometimes it is our responsibility not to.
With every right there comes an equal responsibility. Consider the First Amendment . It grants to me the right to free speech. I can say virtually whatever I want, whenever I want, with full impunity. I can stand on the street corner and hurl racial epithets to those that pass by. I can burn the American flag. I can march with the Ku Klux Klan. But should I? I say no.
Let’s look at a more direct example. In 1993, a true piece of human filth, Richard Allen Davis, kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Polly Klaas, from her mother’s home. He then sexually assaulted her and strangled her to death, dumping her body beside a freeway overpass. (I apologize for not having a better description than human filth. It is insulting to both humans and filth.)
Davis had been in and out of jail and prison since the age of 12. He had been convicted of multiple kidnappings and sexual assaults. Yet, somehow, this predator was free to walk the streets in 1993. This outraged the people of California. This led to Proposition 184 on the California ballot in 1994. Known as the Three Strikes law, it says, basically, if you commit three felonies, and two of them are violent felonies, you’re going to prison for life without parole. If this law had been in place before Polly Klaas was murdered, Davis would have already been in prison for life, and she might be raising her own children today.
But there were some parts of Prop 184 that some perceived as flaws. For example, the law does not require that the third “strike” be a violent crime. It can be as simple as someone committing petty left. This led to life sentences for crimes as small as stealing a slice of pizza or shoplifting videotapes. (I’ll bet he’s pissed after finding out about DVDs.)
Some, myself included, found this to be fundamentally unfair. For example, one can have dozens of shoplifting convictions, then go out and molest two children, and only spend a few years in prison. On the other hand, someone can be convicted of two armed robberies when they were sixteen can get a life sentence for shoplifting a pack of chewing gum when they’re 42, even if they have served their time for the robberies and stayed out of trouble otherwise.
So Proposition 66 was introduced in 2004. This proposition would require that the third offense to be a violent or serious crime before the three strikes rule could be used. But it did some other things as well. For example, it doubled the penalty for committing a second violent felony. More than that, it increased the penalty for the first offence, and added a “two strikes” provision for sexual crimes against children, like the one Richard Allen Davis committed. It would give life sentences to these bottom feeders for the second offense. No more third chances to ruin the life of another innocent victim. It added some fairness to the law, but it was actually tougher on violent crime. In my opinion, anyone who was in favor Prop 184 should have liked Prop 66.
A week before the election, it looked like the initiative would be passed. But at the last minute, a well-meaning billionaire spent millions of dollars on TV and radio ads against the proposition, warning people that, if passed, “26,000 dangerous criminals and rapists” would be released from prison. The claim was untrue, but it scared people. The yes vote for Prop 66 was 47%, so the initiative was defeated. Today, a serial child molester in California can be sentenced to as little as three years for their second offense. While we are still handing out life sentences for shoplifters.
Prop 184 was passed by 72% of the electorate. I don’t believe that anyone who voted yes on 184 and actually read the law proposed by Prop 66 voted no. So what happened?
What happened is that people went to the polls and voted on an initiative that they didn’t really understand. They relied on what they heard on the radio or saw on TV to decide on which way to vote.
This is happening over and over again. It doesn’t just apply to ballot initiatives. It’s the same for elections for city council, state congress, and the US president. The election is won by the side that spends the most money. It goes to the highest bidder. People, this isn’t democracy. It’s EBay. (I actually coined that phrase six years ago, before I’d ever heard of Meg Whitman. It has a certain irony today that it didn’t at the time.)
How do we fix this? The only way to stop this, is to understand what you are voting for. Actually read the law before you vote yes or no. It’s easy to find them online. Before you vote for a candidate, go to their website and see if they stand for the same policies and principles that you do. Look at their track record and see whether their actions show that they really believe what they say. Look at their voting record, if they have one. If you don’t do this, you’re really selling your vote.
Two years ago in California, almost the opposite happened. Almost every initiative on the ballot failed, in part because they were sponsored by big corporations, and people were sick of people trying to buy elections. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s almost as bad. An initiative should become law if it is a good law. If a corporation spends a billion dollars on an ad campaign for proposition X, this doesn’t make it a bad law by default. And if it has a catchy slogan, that doesn’t make it a good law. Read the law.
Let’s say I see an ad on TV for a beautiful new sports car as it drives along a curvy mountain road looking sexy. I don’t do any research. I don’t find out what it’s maintenance record is like, what kind of gas mileage it gets, what kind of performance it actually has, how safe it is, or what kind of consumer reports it has received. Then I go straight to the dealer and buy one. If it turns out to be a lemon that spends more time in the shop than it does in my garage, that’s my fault. I got what I deserved. If I vote for a candidate without doing the research and I get a bad legislator, that’s also my fault. But that’s not your fault. Why should I think it’s ok to elect someone to govern you when I don’t know anything about them?
So, again I say, don’t vote! If you haven’t read the impartial analysis on a ballot measure, much less the entire law, don’t vote on it. If all you know about Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman is what you see on TV, don’t vote for either of them. Leave the decision to those that have done the research. Don’t vote for someone because they have the best or the most commercials. Don’t vote because you like their slogan. Don’t vote for someone because your friend or your spouse is voting for them. Though if they’ve done the research, at least that’s something.
Don’t vote for a proposition if you don’t really understand it. Don’t vote for a bill if you really don’t care. Let the people who will be affected by it make the decision. Don’t guess. Don’t flip a coin. You don’t have to vote for every issue on the ballot just because you’re in the booth. You can skip some. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Don’t vote for someone because they’re pretty, or they give good speeches. That just proves that they read well and know a good speech writer.
Don’t vote for someone just because they’re a Democrat. That’s not democracy. That’s a club. And don’t vote for a Republican just because you’re mad at the Democrats. Vote for the person who will do the best job.
What about third party candidates? A lot of us won’t vote for someone in the Green or the Libertarian party, even if we like everything they say, because we don’t want to waste our vote. If everybody feels that way, nothing can ever change. We’ll always have the same two parties running everything. We’ll just swing back and forth from one side to the other. If nobody felt that way, then some of these candidates would have a chance, and you wouldn’t be throwing away your vote. If you like the Peace and Freedom candidate, vote for her. Send a statement. Maybe they won’t win, but maybe someone else will be see that and have the courage to vote Peace and Freedom in the next election. If you are voting for the lesser of the two evils, you truly are throwing away your vote. I won’t be voting for Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman, because I really can’t stand either one of them.
Am I really saying don’t vote? Not really. But I am saying you should know what you are voting for. Your votes are going to affect your life. But they will also affect the lives of your neighbors. Voting is a right. But it’s also a responsibility. If a responsible person doesn’t know what they’re voting for, the responsible person doesn’t vote.