The Library: Beyond the Ballot

Although the 2014 mid-term elections have concluded, our civic responsibility still deserves our thoughtful consideration.  On Monday I mentioned the two most common voting booth strategies we might employ when we aren’t as informed as we’d like to be – the “straight ticket” option, when you vote Democrat or Republican, straight down the ballot; and the “top tier” option, when you only vote for the “top tier” candidates, thinking (incorrectly) that the other offices don’t matter much.  Neither is recommended, for obvious reasons.  Another tactic I admit I have used in the past is to vote for only the female candidate.  This was a strategy I used in the late 1970s, during the fight for the ERA (although today, this strategy can really backfire on you).  And lately, with the demographic changes in Georgia, I am inclined, when I have no other knowledge, to vote for the candidate with the Latino, or other ethnic-sounding surname – anything but a name that implies “rich white male”.  Still, clearly, less than ideal selection criteria.

So this year, I did my homework, and I went beyond just the candidates’ positions on the major, controversial issues.  As I dug further, I learned that there are too many offices where the incumbent (mostly Republican) is running unopposed.  In my opinion, there should be no elected offices where a candidate runs unopposed.  At the very least, there should be another box voters can check, perhaps labeled “No Confidence”.

I also had some major revelations.  I did not know, truly, what the Commissioner of Agriculture, or the Commissioner of Insurance, or the Commissioner of Labor is really responsible for.

• I did not realize that the Commissioner of Insurance has a voice as to how the Affordable Care Act is implemented, including the (now virtually dead in Georgia) expansion of Medicaid to the uninsured.

• We often talk about escalating income inequality, and I learned that it is the Commissioner of Labor that can actually fight for a livable wage.

• The Commissioner of Agriculture is responsible for the safety of the food we eat, and it is this person who we should be writing to with regards to the labeling of GMO foods.

• The state school superintendent is up for grabs, and both candidates’ websites look pretty good, so I will defer to my teacher friends for an opinion on that choice.

• The Public Service Commission has two seats open; they are largely responsible for regulating energy companies and energy costs.

So much is riding on the careful, considered selection of the people we choose to represent us in our government.  The preservation of our democracy is dependent on how seriously we take our responsibility to cast an informed, intelligent vote, and how much we know about the roles these representatives play in affecting policy on the issues that are important to us.  We can – we should – make our voices heard beyond our vote.

JoAnn Weiss

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