Now, more than ever, every intention, every voice, every action, and every vote matters. Get in touch with your true nature, and vote like your community, people, and planet depend on it. Here’s our weekly round-up of important voting FYIs.
WEEK 12: ELECTION DAY CHECKLIST
As election day comes rolling in, we’re re-capping all that we’ve shared about the hallmark of America’s democracy known as the right to vote. From the Electoral College and the plurality system, to mail in ballots and state/local measures, the ins and outs of election in the United States can be a bit of a doozy. Here are some links to help you navigate the terrain.
INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING AT YOUR LOCAL POLLING PLACE? Awesome! Get info here.
WANT TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR STATE’S BALLOT MEASURES? Good idea. Check it out.
CURIOUS ABOUT THE WHO’S WHO OF CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES? Take a look.
And remember, we’re in this together. Make your plan:
STEP 1: Make sure you’re registered.
STEP 2: Research the candidates and ballot measures.
STEP 3: Locate your polling place (it might have changed).
STEP 4: Check your state’s rules (some don’t allow campaign merch or ballot selfies).
STEP 5: Plan out your transportation and work schedule.
STEP 6: Come with snacks, water, masks and sanitizer if you’re expecting long lines.
STEP 7: Stay in line. You’re allowed to vote no matter how late it gets (camp chairs encouraged).
STEP 8: Spread the word/tell your friends how cool voting is!
WEEK 11: CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS
While the presidential election may be on the forefront of everyone’s minds and social feeds, there’s just as much on the line when it comes to congressional elections.
With a total of 470 seats in the U.S. Congress (35 in the Senate and 435 in the House) up for election on November 3rd, and with many of those seats in key battleground states, the stakes are about as high as Mt. Everest.
Congress makes the laws that influence our daily lives and is essentially the body of government that speaks for the American people. Who we choose to sit in those seats matters.
BACK UP A SEC.
Quick history lesson. When writing the U.S. Constitution, the framers referred to Congress as the “first branch,” giving it the power to “levy taxes, raise and maintain an army and navy, regulate interstate commerce, and pass any law it deems ‘necessary and proper,’ among a host of other powers.” The Senate was initially intended to represent the states, while the House was designed to represent the nation. Today, about 15,000 bills are introduced in any given Congress, but only a few hundred receive votes on the House or Senate floors. Get more history here and check out this roundup of greatest speeches from the Senate.
The early bird may get the worm, but where did early voting come from and why do we do it? Here’s the 411:
In the late 1970’s, after realizing that voters were making up excuses for needing absentee ballots (when in reality they just wanted to bypass long commutes and even longer lines), California adopted the first “no excuse absentee ballot.” For similar convenience reasons and to reduce pressure on polling places during Election Day, states have continued to adopt measures to make early voting more accessible. Today, the majority of states now offer at least one method for eligible voters to cast their ballots early, and some states even allow early voting to occur in person. Due to pandemic concerns during this year’s election, more voters than ever are expected to vote by mail, making early voting a critical topic of discussion.
The U.S. federal election system is a complicated one (lookin’ at you, Electoral College). We don’t have a “majority wins” approach, but a “plurality wins” approach — the candidate with the highest number of electoral votes wins, period. It doesn’t matter whether that candidate earned the majority of the actual votes cast.
ENTER: THE IDEA OF RANKED CHOICE VOTING (RCV)
Ranked choice is just that — voters rank candidates by preference. Instead of checking one box for one candidate, you rank all the candidates in order of preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc). In a RCV system, the winning candidate ends up with a majority of votes — even if some voters selected the candidate as a second or third choice.
HOW RANKED CHOICE VOTING WORKS
1. Voters rank all the candidates for a given office by preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc).
2. If a candidate wins an outright majority of 1st-preference votes (i.e., 50% + one vote), he or she will be declared the winner.
3. If no candidates win an outright majority (50% +1), the candidate with the fewest 1st-preference votes is eliminated.
4. The eliminated candidate’s votes are then redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the ballot rankings.
5. A new tally with the adjusted votes is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won an outright majority.
6. The process repeats until a candidate wins a majority of votes cast.
Ranked choice voting advocates argue that the plurality system doesn’t always reflect the true will of the people — hence the difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote. Critics say that a RCV system could make elections much more complicated for voters and parties could abuse it to game the system. As of 2020, one state (Maine) has adopted RCV at the state level, but it continues to be a hot topic when it comes to elections.
A ballot measure is a piece of proposed legislation that gets put to voters (vs. being proposed and adopted by a legislature, then turned into law) and they are SUPER important for state and local elections. Allow us to break down that part of the ballot that you never completely look at.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Ballot measures are also known as propositions or questions. Once they are passed, they become a law. (And since we’re getting technical, an amendment is a proposed change to an existing law in a state’s constitution.)
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS AND LETTERS MEAN?
The letter or numbers listed after each measure explain where they came from. Ballot measures labeled with a letter – Measure M, for example – were referred to the ballot by state lawmakers. Amendments or propositions with numbers, Prop 4 or Prop 98 for example, are citizen-driven initiatives and went through the signature-gathering process to get on the ballot.
OKAY, BUT WHAT DO PROPS AND MEASURES DO?
Props are your state law and decide everything that isn’t a federal law — things like how your state criminal justice system works, how your state taxes are spent, and changes to the local school system — to name just a few. For example, Prop 64 in California legalized adult use of marijuana (another reason we love living in the Golden State). Props and measures have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
WHERE DO I LEARN ABOUT MY BALLOT MEASURES AND PROPS?
Do your research! Look up the measures online (that’s why you get a sample ballot AHEAD of time) or check out your preferred local news organization for their endorsements.
September 22 is #NationalVoterRegistrationDay, so we’d be doing everyone a disservice if we didn’t focus this week’s topic all around registering to vote. For the most part, you’re eligible to vote in U.S. elections if you:
• Are a U.S. citizen
• Meet your state’s residency requirements
• Are 18+ years old (BTW, in most states you can register to vote before you turn 18 if you’ll be 18 by Election Day)
•Are registered to vote by your state’s registration deadline
Each state has its own fine print so make sure you check your state’s election office website, but if it sounds like you are eligible then hop on that registration train! First stop: The General Election on November 3rd.
The electoral college is made up of 538 electors from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Each state has a certain number of electors based on population — California has almost 40 million people and 55 electoral votes, for instance, while Wyoming has 579,00 people and 3 electoral votes. To win the presidency, a candidate must win at least 270 votes, the majority of the electoral votes.
ELECTORAL VOTE VS. POPULAR VOTE
The popular vote is the number of individual votes cast for a candidate — In 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 65,845,063 votes — 2.9 million more than Donald Trump. BUT individual votes don’t elect the president — electoral votes do. It’s a winner takes all system, not majority rules.
WINNER TAKES ALL
When you vote, you are voting for where your state’s electoral votes will go. For example, in 2012 4 million Californians voted for Mitt Romney, but Barack Obama had more votes, so her took all 55 electoral votes. When it comes to states, winner takes all.
The winner takes all approach is what creates the two party system: voters can’t afford to waste their vote, so they stop voting for people who reflect their values and start voting for candidates they think can win…. So we end up with a 2 party system.
November 3rd is the new Earth Day. Because whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on, the environment matters — clean air, running water, and healthy forests should be a priority for all Earth dwellers (that’s you). And since we live in a democracy where we elect people to make decisions on our behalf, voting for candidates committed to environmental causes matters, too.
The Environmental Protection Agency is a branch of the US government tasked with environmental protection matters; its administrator is nominated by the President and confirmed by a vote in the Senate (2 positions you can vote for). Since 2017, the EPA has set out to reverse over 100 environmental rules — and guess who’s challenging them? State, county, and city governments (yep, more positions you vote for).
18 million+ youth are eligible to vote in the 2020 November elections, but historically only 1 in 5 turn out to vote. So if you know any 18-25 year olds, encourage them to register and vote like their future depends on it — because it sure does.
Think global, ACT LOCAL. As exciting and important as national elections are, your local elections typically have a more immediate impact on your day to day life. Here’s a quick breakdown on what you might see on your local ballot on November 3rd.
Everyone lives in a county so you’ll definitely see some of these on your ballot. Counties encompass a number of neighboring towns (Bridges of Madison COUNTY, anyone?), and each county has a central infrastructure and administration that takes care of things like land and water usage, emergency response, and the budget. Here are some of the elected positions at the county:
Board of Supervisors – 5 regional members who oversee all county operations and manage the budget
County Auditor – Oversees the county’s finances
County Engineer – Responsible for transportation and public works
County Sheriff – Oversees law enforcement and often responsible for managing county jails and security
District Attorney – Seeks justice in criminal cases, works to prevent crime, and serves to hold law enforcement institutions accountable (!) You can learn more about DAs here.
Within counties, cities and townships are comprised of districts that represent your district and your neighborhood (like The Hunger Games, but real). Your district will dictate which candidates are on your ballot (so if you don’t live within the city limits, the Mayor likely won’t be on your ballot). Here are some of the elected positions at the district level:
Mayor – Head of the municipal government and oversees all city services and approve/veto city legislation.
City Council – The primary legislative body with council members who represent each city district; the city council also appoints boards and commissions for various public works
School Board – Supervises the education system and creates policies to improve schools; made up of council members who represent each district
Water Board – Oversees the water usage, sources and rates of water in a certain district
Here’s the deal: there are millions of eligible voters who don’t know when the election is (Tuesday, November 3rd), where to vote (depends on your address), or what they need to vote (depends on your state). Now that YOU know, here are some ways to spread the word and get out the vote.
WORK THE POLLS
America is in the midst of a nationwide poll worker shortage. Most poll workers are over 60, and due to COVID, fewer are signing up for the job. In-person polling locations will require at least a million workers and volunteers, so it’s all hands on deck. The Toads are getting the day off to volunteer, so if you can, join us. Learn more here.
If you like a candidate, volunteer to phone bank for a few hours (or you can look for a text banking option if you’re feeling phone-shy). From the comfort of your own couch, you’ll typically call people who’ve been identified as supporters (public voting records are useful like that!) and you’ll run through a script to help them visualize their vote…
If phone banking is intimidating, simply run through that same set of questions with your friends and family. Root out the excuses and hold them (gently) accountable.
WEEK 2: WOMEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE
Even though 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting women’s right to vote, many American women of color didn’t get true voting protections until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So we like to think of voting as a great way to say “thanks” to the pioneers who took up the cause.
In 2020, 127 women serve in the U.S. Congress (23.7%), and hold 28.9% of statewide elective executive offices across the country. Whether your interest is running for national or local office, working on campaigns, or leadership training, we say, ‘the more the merrier’ when it comes to women stepping up in politics. Here’s an awesome list of resources we found for women looking to get involved, both locally and nationally.
WEEK 1: MAIL-IN BALLOTS
Forget what you heard on Twitter: mail-in ballots are just as copacetic as the ballot box. They’re also way less germ-y and way more convenient. Each state is different so make sure you’re signed up!
This info was pulled from Fortune.com on 8/6, but make sure to check your state’s website for updates and to find out if you need an excuse to vote by mail (yep, that’s a thing).