BY BRANDI ENGEMAN
Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with folks my age, generally considered “younger” voters even though I consider myself quite middle aged at this point in my life. We all come back to a few things; we believe in voting our values and in a political landscape where the partisanship is more extreme than it has been in most of our voting lives, it has become increasingly difficult to have a conversation about political candidates that doesn’t devolve into finger pointing if we don’t support the candidates who share our political “letter”. It’s leading to apathy and disenfranchisement in multiple generations of voters.
Both sides (and a lot of the third parties) tend to have the same M.O. “Vote for your party letter candidate because the alternative is worse”. This just won’t hold anymore. What if the candidates that I share a political party with don’t share my values? Do I vote for them simply because the alternative is worse or scarier? Maybe, maybe that will work for a bit longer. Should I be hollered at to “vote for them no matter what!” and told I’m a bad party member if I question their fitness for office? How is that democratic? Will this encourage better candidates to run, if they know they can win a constituency simply because of how they identify on the ballot? How long can candidates win on fear of the opponent alone?
While I do believe that no candidate or elected official is perfect, the idea that I, or any other voter, should choose someone who doesn’t share my values simply because I’m afraid of the alternative, is no longer enough. I personally want candidates who will protect my rights and the rights of others AND will share more of the “small ticket” values I expect from local and state level candidates (fair wages and ethical accountability in elected bodies for instance). We cannot simply thrust a warm body into a role and tell voters they can never expect anything better because, again, the alternative is worse.
We have to do better. We need candidates who show us who they are and earn our votes. This is especially true at local levels where we interact with those candidates on a more intimate basis. Those of us involved in our political parties, owe ourselves, and our fellow members, more than slogans and “letter” based politics. We owe our up and coming voters a system that feels as though their voice matters and is heard and that they are truly represented at all levels of government. We should be encouraging candidates to value their voter’s voices and opinions and not bristle when questioned by those voters. If we truly want a better community, locally and globally, we must have the hard conversations or we will continue to slide into a parody of the democracy we all claim to enjoy.