a non-political voter's guide to voting
For someone who has an opinion on everything from honey (much too cloying, and there's something disturbing about a food that never spoils) to the the the ISIS sex slavery issue (seriously...people are still against Planned Parenthood in our country when things like this are happening in the world?), I don't have a lot of opinions about politics, at least not those worth expressing. I'm not often particularly vocal about politics, not because I don't care, but because I honestly don't think I'm well-informed enough or have enough context to make good decisions or to form valid opinions about policy.
I am the first to admit that politics doesn't personally interest me. I know very little about the logistics of elections, the way laws or policies are passed, political terminology, or about how campaigning works. But I'm trying to change that. Because it's too important to dismiss simply because it's uninteresting. And this is something, very real and very within my reach, that I can do to make a difference.
So I am, for the first time, voting in a presidential election this fall. I've done extensive research, consulted many people that are much more well-versed in politics than I am, and tried to faithfully follow the debates.
I won't say who I'm voting for, but I'm going to go ahead and take a swing at the low-hanging fruit and say this: Any candidate that is immature enough to respond to his critics with insults on Twitter or make misogynistic jokes during an interview, whose first reaction to disagreement is to call their opposition a "loser" or an "idiot", is not someone who is can make rational decisions or has the American people's best interests in mind. But it's also important to note that while many people do agree that he is a sexist, entitled, shamefully misinformed (summary here) joke of a presidential candidate, it speaks to the state of our country itself that he is even being considered. He does not represent the minority opinion, and that alone should be terrifying to us. Here is someone with no concrete policies, no political experience, and no filter, and he's running for President of the United States. The fact that he is even a consideration is a good enough reason as any to get off your couch, get on your computer, and learn as much as you can before November. Vote for who you want, but it's important that you take it seriously, and consider it within the landscape of American politics itself.
That being said, it's important just to care. Because if we don't, who will? It only affects the next four to eight years of our adult lives. Not to mention that this election is being called potentially the most important election since 1860, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, there is no incumbent running AKA Obama has reached his presidential term limit. That means he's not going to be there to defend all of the executive actions he's taken over the past four years, for example, the global compact that 196 countries signed to fight climate change. And, with very hot issues like healthcare, immigration, and gun control still up in the air, the next president's party affiliation could drastically affect the direction of our country.
Secondly, the 45th POTUS will most likely select four new Supreme Court Justices to replace three members that are over 75 years of age, along with Antonin Scalia who passed away two months ago. That's almost half of the nine-person United States Supreme Court lineup. Remember, Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, and can only be removed by impeachment or resignation.
Shoutout to my friends Shikha, Steph, and Johnny, some of the most opinionated and politically-savvy people I know, for explaining to me the mechanics of the election process and answering all of my stupid questions. It's been a very humbling experience, so thanks.
HERE'S WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. FIND OUT IF YOU'RE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE
Are 18+ years old or will you be by November 2016?
Are you a US citizen?
If you answered YES to both of these questions, and fulfill your state's residency requirements (something you can find in a quick Google search), then you're good to go!
2. UNDERSTAND THE STEPS
This guide is meant to be for beginners; it is in no way intended to be a comprehensive overview of the election process. Check out USA.gov for more details on the requirements to become president, and a roadmap of the whole process.
3. REGISTER TO VOTE!
You can do this by mail or online. For Californians, go here to register. You'll need your driver's license number, and last four digits of your Social Security number. If you register in a different state than you currently reside in, you can fill out an absentee ballot for your state. For college students who go to school out-of-state, this is for you.
4. GET TO KNOW THE CANDIDATES
Watch the debates, both Republican and Democratic ones, and know what to look for when you're watching them. Visit the candidates' sites, but be aware that of course each one is inherently biased. Watching debates online is a good option as well, as television media is run by only six(?!) corporations that air very selective content based on what audiences respond to. A great website to fact-check debate statements is PolitiFact—it's super-simple and makes it easy to compare the candidates (Hillary actually has the highest percentage of "true" and "mostly true" statements, believe it or not). Also interesting: What Speech Patterns Say About the Presidential Candidates.
OnTheIssues is a great resource if you want to learn about who the candidates are and what they stand for in a concise and easy-to-read way. And Skimm The Vote has pretty much everything you need to know, from the candidates to the schedule to FAQ, written in its sharp, sassy trademark style. The New York Times also offers an excellent analysis of what each candidate would need to do to win, and what obstacles they currently face.
This step is crucial. If you're going to vote, do it right, and do your own research. That includes candidates that you wouldn't want to vote for, so you understand why you're not voting for them and what policies you oppose. A good way to find out is by taking this quiz.
5. VOTE IN THE PRIMARIES
Primary elections in each state determine who will represent their respective party at the national party convention. So for registered Democrats, you can either choose Bernie or Hillary, and for registered Republicans, you can choose from Drumpf, Cruz, or Kasich. Independents can choose from assorted third-party candidates. "Super Tuesday," which was March 1st of this year, refers to the date that a bunch of states held their primaries at the same time. He who wins Super Tuesday has a pretty good chance of becoming their party's nominee. "Blue" states refer to those whose residents usually vote Democratic, and "red" states refer to those whose residents usually vote Republican. "Swing" states are important, because they're basically up for grabs.
For Californians, save the date: June 7th, 2016. (Note: Again, if you chose "unaffiliated" AKA not Democrat or Republican, you only vote in the general election in November, unless you request a No Party Preference vote)
Here's where it gets a little tricky. Candidates who "win" states in the primaries win the "popular vote," or the peoples' vote. BUT the popular vote doesn't actually determine who is president. That's up to the Electoral College.
The Electoral College was designed to keep elections fair from state-to-state, to make sure states like Texas and Rhode Island got fair representation. So there are a total of 538 "electors" in the Electoral college—each state gets votes based on how many Senators (2) + how many House Representatives (# determined by population) they have. California has 55, two for its senators, and 53 for its House Reps.
So when you cast your vote, you're actually voting for electors who cast their votes, which determines who gets the presidency. This is why Al Gore actually got more votes than George Bush, but Bush won the presidency (he got more Electoral College votes). The number of electoral votes to win is usually 270.
That's why voting in the primaries is important. The number of electors is significantly affected by the number of electoral votes a candidate receives in the party.
Note: The Democratic party uses "superdelegates." Unlike regular delegates who are selected to represent a specific party and therefore vote their respective party, superdelegates can vote for whoever they want in either party. That means that number of delegates does not necessarily determine the number of votes. It's really a benefit to Republicans because all of their delegates are obligated to vote Republican, but not all Democrats will vote Democratic. BUT superdelegates historically vote with the popular vote. Bill Clinton is a superdelegate and in 2008 gave Obama his vote over his wife.
For updated national voting results, click here.
6. PEEP THE VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINES IN YOUR STATE
This refers to the general election AKA, The Big One, in November.
Find a polling place near you and officially cast your vote. And then you're done! Congratulations, you have taken your first step as a contributing American citizen in politics.
If anyone is interested in learning about politics in layman's terms, or can offer some further enlightenment on the subject matter, let me know :).