Vote, but not just today

Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States yesterday. This makes the current Supreme court one of the most conservative in ages, with a 6 to 3 majority. Previously, some cases would be ruled in favor of the liberal judges, because one of the conservative judges would agree with the liberal judges (and often they would dictate the terms of the opinion). Now this is much more unlikely, as it requires two conservative judges to side with the liberals.

This will have wide-reaching consequences. One of the most immediate consequences is on the current case arguing against the constitutionality of Obamacare.

If you’re a US citizen, you’ve likely been told to vote a hundred times already. Even if you’re not a US citizen, you’ve seen it, and are probably sick of it. This is, of course, because Trump is an extraordinarily dangerous president. But I want to point out the obvious: this whole situation with the Supreme Court did not arise from Trump shenanigans, it arose from plain old Republican shenanigans. Amy Coney Barrett is a judge that any Republican president could have nominated, and any Republican senate could have confirmed.

So don’t just vote out Trump, vote them all out. Note, senators are only reelected every 6 years, so this requires sustained commitment–voting in every election, including midterms. This year, everyone is anxious about the election and feeling a bit powerless. Channel that anxiety into a commitment to exercise your voting power at every opportunity.

When I write about elections, most recently in my 2020 endorsements, and in another essay on The Asexual Agenda, I always try to emphasize that there is more to the election than just the presidents. This is largely because I live in California, where the presidential elections don’t really matter. The electoral college is an undemocratic institution that disenfranchises the 40 million people in my state. Presidential candidates, including Democrats, never even try to address the devastating effects of California wildfires, instead veering towards issues that are parochial to swing states. And while we do have power in the senate, our power is 70 times smaller per capita than Wyoming.

But it’s not entirely true that presidential elections don’t matter in California. Voter turnout tends to be much higher in years where there is a presidential election. For example, the 2014 midterm election had a turnout of 31%, but the 2016 election had a turnout of 59% (cite). This has a huge effect on every other election that occurs in California, even if the presidential election itself is a foregone conclusion.

So, you know, vote even if you are disenfranchised. Vote, even if you are one of those people who thinks third party presidential candidates are a good idea. Vote, even if it will have no impact on the president, or even if there is no presidential election at all.

Congress is one of the things you should vote for. The good news about the current Obamacare Supreme Court case, is that it’s basically based on a drafting error in the Obamacare law. It’s easy to fix, just make a small amendment to the law. Republican Senators are apparently unwilling. Vote them out. The Supreme Court needs reform, because it’s frankly absurd that the balance of our country depends on the lifespans of nine individuals, and that it is so vulnerable to packing. A Republican congress will never reform the Supreme Court. Vote them out.

But Congress isn’t the only thing. There are regularly important elections on the state and local level too. In California this year, we have Prop 15 and Prop 22. Prop 15 closes a tax loophole caused by a critical mistake that voters made in 1978. Prop 22 creates another critical mistake, by depriving a whole class of gig workers employee’s rights. Pretty much every California election has important decisions like these, and they’re usually decided by smaller margins than the nation-wide elections.

I get that researching these issues is difficult, especially with the most local elections which may only have one newspaper even talking about them. When I voted in my first election, I was taken by surprise–I went in to vote for Obama, and I didn’t expect to be handed a ballot with a million other decisions. I spontaneously decided on a few, but mostly I abstained.

Abstaining is probably the best decision in that situation, and voting for what you can is better than avoiding the polls entirely. But the next time, I learned to be prepared, spending just a few hours to research everything. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but remember we’re here for the long haul, so the important thing is that you eventually get better and better at it.


  1. nifty says

    And to add to this- school boards make differences and impact people’s lives. County boards of supervisors make differences, city councils make differences. Who is really making the differences locally for policing, education, and COVID responses? Homelessness? Building codes and environmental policies?

  2. anat says

    It is a similar situation in Washington state. Safely blue for presidential and senate elections, of 10 congressional districts only 1 is really competitive (well, 2 more might be if it weren’t for incumbency advantage). Legislative districts show more movement. Races for some statewide positions sometimes get interesting (especially the memorable 2004 gubernatorial race that was decided by a handful of votes after several recounts).

    On odd years we have so many local races – city council, county council, school districts, and commissioners of endless special districts – ports, fire districts, wastewater, who knows what. It is very difficult to get informed on many of those. At least in my city there are often candidate fora where one can meet the candidates and ask them a question or two, and get an idea of their approach.

    Ballot measures can be the really big thing. In the past Washington state got marriage equality and marijuana legalization via such measures. We also defeated 2 measures that attempted to roll back rights of transgender people. OTOH we twice failed to pass measures that would have put a price on carbon emissions.

    This year there were 3 measures on my ballot that raised any kind of controversy: Referendum R-90, a statewide referendum that would require all public schools to adopt and implement a comprehensive sex education curriculum; Amendment 5 to King county charter, that would make the position of sheriff appointed by the county council (like in was before 1996) rather than elected, and amendment 6 to grant the county council the power to limit the authority of the sheriff. Guess which unions are opposing the latter 2? Also looks like next year we will face ballot measures by supporters of said unions intended to depress free-speech demonstrations… Always be on the lookout!

  3. says


    Okay, I’ll admit I abstained in just one election this year, which was the local school board. It seemed rather difficult to research, and I’m childfree (and just moved away from that city) so I don’t have any stake in it. But in general it’s good to vote in those elections even without having any stake in them, because they matter to other people, and a lot of voting is basically a cheap form of altruism.

  4. DrVanNostrand says

    People should not forget the lesson of Obama’s presidency. He came in with solid majorities that allowed him to pass the ACA and several economic recovery measures in the first two years. Then the democrats got wiped out in 2010, and the republicans spent the next 6 years making sure he accomplished nothing. While Biden is unlikely to do anything earth shattering, if you want him to accomplish anything at all, you need to make sure republicans don’t win back control of the house or senate.

  5. nifty says

    As a WA voter anat and I share a lot of similar memories. I also think that these local elections, state legislators and the like are where we can start seeing how individuals really behave in elected office. I am so tired of seeing business idiots who have never run for any office before jump in as senators, governors, and presidents! That has not worked well for us. (I am in a very blue House district- the top repub candidate finished 4th in our top-two primary. All three democratic women who finished in front of him were well qualified.) My county supervisor possibilities have really clear and important policy differences.

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