DISCLAIMER FOR ELECTORAL POLITICS BLOG POST: This post (along with everything on this blog, unless otherwise stated) represents my views as an individual and not as a spokesperson for any organization I work for and/or am affiliated with.
It is another US election…
I lack the words today to give any big thoughts on the rottenness of what our political system has become, so instead I’m going to stay pragmatic and focus on the matter at hand.
As I have traditionally done in past years, I’m writing a blog post to discuss the choices I am making and why I am making said choices. Partly I’m doing this for my own recollection later so I can see whether my assumptions about candidates turned out to be right or wrong), but also because I have friends ask me for advice about voting, which always makes me a little hesitant because it is hard to explain all of the issues in a short conversation. It is much easier to refer them to a written blog post.
Since this is a long-ish post, I’ve broken up into smaller sections:
- The issue of voting itself
- My methodology for decision-making
- How I plan to vote – US President
- How I plan to vote – US Senate and House Races
- How I plan to vote – State Legislative Races
- How I plan to vote – Oklahoma County Races
- How I plan to vote – Judicial Retention Elections – To be added later as Part 2
- How I plan to vote – State Questions – To be added later as Part 2
As a Mennonite who leans in a somewhat Anarchist direction, voting is a morally questionable thing for me to do. I personally do not see this in a black-and-white way (i.e. “Do not kill”) but as an issue that requires a nuanced consideration the issues at stake.
The arguments against voting that I find compelling are:
- I don’t believe in the use of coercion and violence for political or any other ends, so why am I voting for those who metaphorically “wield the sword”?
- Voting may send a message to the powers that be that I (and millions of others) support a pretty rotten system
- Electoral politics distracts people from the more important issues of directly working to make the world better, siphoning off our energy away from where it can do some good
- The choices we are given are crappy. I’m often stuck with making serious compromises or voting for candidates I don’t believe in.
- Jesus seemed to eschew the traditional politics of his day, rejecting (1) the call to start a violent movement against the Roman occupation (the Zealot approach), (2) playing the political game in the Roman empire (the Sadducee/Herodian approach), or (3) seeking to find middle ground but still play the game of power (the Pharisee approach), and instead sought to establish an alternative community, which he referred to as “the Kingdom of God.” Maybe his approach should be still used today.
The arguments for voting that I find compelling are:
- 7+ Billion people around the world are affected by what happens in the US Presidential race, but only about 3.1% of those people will have the right to vote in this election. One could argue that anyone who has the privilege of voting, should use it to vote on behalf of the interests of the other 96.9% of the people on planet Earth. In particular, I’m thinking of some of the people I met while on a recent trip to Cuba, who understand very much how much their lives are affected by our upcoming US election.
- The electoral system might be inherently flawed but it is the system that is in place. One can vote or not vote, but those who vote will be the ones in the driver’s seat of this system.
- We have some crappy choices on the ballot, but at least this year we do have a selection of Libertarians in the mix (the first time a third party has been on the ballot since I think 1996), so at least we have more choices than before.
- Principled non-voting might be a good moral choice, but it is not a practical way to make change, given the fact that the media and popular culture label all non-voters as apathetic. Even some friends of mine (who I otherwise respect), have taken this stance in publicly shaming all non-voters with the BadVoter.org project, making the assumption that all nonvoters are apathetic when some might instead be conscientiously objecting to voting.
- With regards to the religious argument – The Bible was written at a time when ordinary people didn’t get to vote for their leaders, hence we really have no idea what Jesus would do in a situation like ours. Certainly we can learn from the “politics of Jesus” but we also have to realize that the example of Jesus will only provide us a certain amount of guidance.
I am still not sold 100% one way or another, but despite reservations I have decided to vote again this year. But I will not give any of my readers grief if you decide to not vote, as long as you do it with intention.
Or maybe is best to take the approach that Henry David Thoreau took on the subject, by remembering that voting is only one small part of life:
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote. – From Civil Disobedience
Without being too tedious I want to share a bit about how I make decisions regarding voting. I think this is important because increasingly, we as US Americans are being encouraged to vote, but often not encouraged to be thoughtful about it.
When I was a teenager, I was a Boy Scout. We learned about many things — camping, cooking, woodworking, electronics, etc, but one of the lessons I especially remember today was on the topic of Civics. Our Scout handbook had a section that discussed the importance of voting, so they invited my dad (a local attorney but also previously the City Manager of our small town) to talk about it. I don’t remember a lot of the details of that talk, but I do remember him saying that “yes, we should vote, but more importantly, we need to be informed voters.”
Of course this isn’t easy. Today I found a copy of my sample ballot (you can find yours as well by going on the Oklahoma state election board website) and in reviewing it, I noticed there are 8 different contested offices up for consideration, 7 different Judges up for retention votes, and 7 different state questions for consideration.
Whew! That’s a lot to consider.
Certainly following the news is a good thing, but it is hard to wade through the garbage — tilted news coverage by one side or another, sparse or non-existent coverage of local races in the media, and of course tons of tons of useless fluff.
And then there is the issue of context. It’s not enough to just know about the individual candidates, but also to know about the context of these elections, of history (from world to local), economics, sociology, etc. Recently Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) made an argument that voters should only vote if they educate themselves first (which of course kicked up a storm of controversy but also more good thoughts from Mike)and I think he makes a good point. At the same time, I also agree with Thoreau that voting is only one part of life, and it would be ridiculous to waste all of one’s life researching how to cast a solitary vote.
So for what it is worth, I approach voting from my context of past experiences and education, particularly, the book “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. I also carry into the decision-making process my own personal convictions and beliefs, and finally the ties of solidarity I have with others, and then take this context into the arena of learning about the candidates and issues.
For candidate research, I like to start with the campaign websites (TV ads and the like are useless IMHO, too short to have any meat). The good websites provide a clear breakdown of the issues, while the bad websites only provide platitudes, which in and of itself provides useful data about how the candidate see her or himself and how they see the voting public.
After that I sometimes check out social media, but also look at websites like Project Vote Smart for responses from the candidates. From there, it depends on the race and the questions that come up.
There are other issues, but this is my normal method, looking to find evidence of where a candidate stands and how likely they are to be telling the truth.
My Choice: Undecided between Clinton, Johnson or leaving it blank
On the Oklahoma ballot, we have three choices: Donald Trump (R), Hillary Clinton (D) or Gary Johnson (L).
Jill Stein (G) is not on the Oklahoma ballot due to our state’s crazy ballot access laws and write-in votes are against the law.
At this moment, the only thing clear is that I will not be voting for Trump.
Looking back on previous elections, I can say that this year is only a more extreme example of past terrible sets of choices…
In 2008 (we only had two choices in Oklahoma that year), I voted for Obama. I disagreed with him on many issues, especially the issue of war, but I felt compelled to vote for him because he promised to end torture by US forces and he promised to shut down GITMO.
In 2012 (still only two choices in Oklahoma that year), I had lost all hope in Obama doing the right thing, so I cast an illegal write-in vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Of course my vote wasn’t counted (and potentially my ballot was spoiled) but I at least knew I was voting for someone who I believed in.
This time we get three choices. I still can’t vote for Stein (who despite some problems would be my first choice), so my options (and discussion for each) are as follows:
- Voting for Clinton – I have major, major misgivings with Hillary, including (but not limited to): hawkishness (especially on drones), her stance on whistleblowers (especially Chelsea Manning), her cozyness to the banking and financial industries, her very belated arrival to the cause of working for LGBTQ equality, her stance on Israel, her past racist record on criminal justice issues, her support of the drug war, her insulting attitude towards young voters, especially supporters of Bernie Sanders and her general support for American Imperialism.These are major, major issues for me. At the same time, she is not Donald Trump (who let’s be frank is an unstable fascist and an admitted rapist), which would be enough reason for me to vote for her if I lived in a swing state. I also very much appreciate her proposed policies on immigration, arguably one of her strongest policy positions.And finally, I would love to see a female president. This desire does not trump my political disagreements with her, but I admit that it makes me want to compromise my values.
- Voting for Johnson I was giving serious thought to voting for Johnson, but the more I hear him speak, the more misgivings I have. He seems terribly uninformed on issues of war and foreign policy and of course has terrible policies on economics. But I do like his plan to cut military spending by 50% and his pro-cannabis legalization policies.Also I have talked peace activist friends in New Mexico and they say that during his time as Governor, he did some positive things and was actually easier (at times) to work with than Democratic governors had been, which is certainly a plus. And most importantly I know that a higher vote count for Johnson may mean that the Libertarians will remain on the Oklahoma ballot after this election without having to repetition.
- Leaving the POTUS line blank -I did this before, back in 2004 as part of an organized “NOTA in Oklahoma” campaign (link to an archived version of the NOTA4Oklahoma Campaign website, also see these archived press coverage from the campaign: story1, story2, story3.
The problem was that the number of so-called “undervotes” (ballots cast in Oklahoma but which did not have a choice marked for President) was not available until several days after the election. This of course makes it hard to make any kind of effective public statement with the numbers. Moreover, we never seemed to capture significant attention with our NOTA campaign, so we ended up with only 0.69% of the vote in Oklahoma.This year of course could be different (see Tulsa World Editorial endorsement: For president? None of the above) but I’m afraid that most of the media and politicians will claim that undervoters were mistaken voters, not non-voters.The illegal write-in vote option (which I proudly did in 2012) is also tempting but even more ineffective since it carries with it the risk of having the entire ballot invalidated, but also is only symbolic in nature.
I don’t know what is the right choice. A week ago I was going to vote for Johnson . A few days ago I was going to vote for Clinton. Today… I don’t know.
The only advice I can give is…. please, for the love of everything that is good and right in this world, please, don’t vote for Trump.
My Choice: Sean Braddy (I)
I’m choosing Braddy over Mike Workman (D) in this race against incumbent James Lankford (R) mostly because Sean has a solid lock on some the key issues in this race, including criminal justice reform and cannabis legalization, but I also appreciate the fact that Sean is coming from the place of community activism and is gutsy enough to be out about being an atheist in Oklahoma. And as a bonus, he is a Bernie supporter.
Workman on the other hand, doesn’t even bother to have a campaign website, only a facebook profile that provides little substance as to where he stands on key issues. It is frankly embarrassing that the Oklahoma Democratic party is putting so little effort into supporting their candidates this year, but there is no excuse for this level of laziness from the candidate either.
US House, Dis. #5
My Choice: Zachary Knight (L)
Until recently I was torn between voting for either Al McAffrey (D) or Zachary Knight (L) in this race against incumbent Steve Russel (R). There are many things I like about Al, most notably the fact that he is an out gay politician in a very red state, which is pretty awesome in my book. However, there are other aspects of him that I find very troubling, most notably his support for the most recent MAPS (aka “tax on the poor to support the downtown elite”) initiative. Probably I can count on him to at least support moderate (and even sometimes progressive) policies in Congress, but I also expect lots of sell-outs.
Zachary Knight in the other hand is a straight-up Libertarian, which means I have made differences with him on economic policy issues, which is of course a big deal. However, it is his policy on peace issues and the war on drugs that jump out at me.
The US spends more money on its military budget than the next 7 countries combined. We spend way too much. The US needs to reduce its military budget if it wants to eliminate its overall debt. It needs to reduce its military presence throughout the world if it wants to retain its peaceful relations with allies and make new allies.
To this end, Zachary Knight proposes the following:
End all wars of aggression and military conflicts the US is currently engaged in. War is only justified in the immediate defense of the US and allies.
Close all military bases not on US or US territory soil. Bring those troops home to protect our nation. We currently spend over $100billion a year maintaining these unnecessary bases
Leave NATO. The US makes up roughly 70% of NATO’s budget and military power. Its purpose of protecting Europe from the Soviet Union has long since passed and it is no longer needed.
Eliminate waste and graft from the military budget by canceling all contracts for military equipment the armed forced do not need nor asked for.
Use some of these savings to properly fund and staff the Veteran Affairs department and treat our soldiers with the respect and care they need.
End the draft. The US still has a draft in place, requiring all adult males to sign up for forced conscription into military service. We need to end this archaic practice.
In comparison, I checked out Al McAffrey’s website and found nothing about the subject on his issue page or anywhere else on his website. Al also did not respond to Project VoteSmart’s questions on the subject. However, I did find some instructive information from an interview with McAffrey from his 2014 US House race:
Q: What role should the United States play in fighting the Islamic State?
McAffrey: Whenever there is a major problem in the world, the United States is the first that is called. That is the fact of the matter. They do not call Moscow any more. They do not call London. They call Washington. Obviously, ISIL is the biggest threat to the stability of the Middle East, a far greater threat than Saddam Hussein. The world is changing rapidly and it is necessary for the U.S. to face this challenge with the most serious resolve. We must support our friends in the region and use our formidable technology and force to eliminate the threat of radicalism.
. . .
Q: What should the Pentagon’s priorities be in the next five years (more troops, specific weapons systems)?
McAffrey: We have to continue to have a mighty military to defend our interests around the world. We need to make our military more agile. We still work on Cold War tactics of fighting large scale wars with boots on the ground. Clearly, advancements in technology such as the use of drone strikes has made us more able to deploy use of force without having to send our brave uniformed men and women into dangerous places. We have the capability to clear a path for our troops if we need to send them.
In short, Knight supports an end to American Miltiary Imperialism while McAffrey wants to expand the use of military power.
This is why, despite my differences with him on many issues, I will be voting for Knight.
For my state legislative races in my area, I’m backing two strong advcoates of public education…
OK House #82
My choice: Misty Warfield (D)
She is strong advocate for public education, an opponent of fracking (it is amazing to me that we aren’t hearing more candidates make some political hay out of the fact we are having HUMAN-INDUCED EARTHQUAKES in Oklahoma), and says she wants to find ways to fix the budget crisis without putting more cost on low income Oklahomans.
More about her can be found at: MistyWarfield.com
Oklahoma Senate #42
My choice: Judy Mullen Hopper (D)
Support sufficient funding to public education to attract new businesses
Propose ways to educate our secondary students so that they are prepared to join the adult workforce upon graduation
Promote legislation to boost recurring revenue and eliminate unfair tax breaks
Create a state budget that is based on long-term planning
Reduce uncompensated care costs to medical providers by increasing eligibility for Medicaid and Insure Oklahoma
Promote treatment and supervision for those suffering from mental health diseases through a combination of public and private funding
“As a public education teacher, I learned how to stretch a dime into a dollar. Our state deserves fiscally responsible leadership in office.”
Mike Christian (R)
The incumbent in this race, John Whetsel (D), is at the helm of Sheriff’s office that is under investigation due to financial improprieties but also runs a terrible jail, well known for its recurrent civil rights violations at the terrible Oklahoma County jail. I don’t understand why he isn’t resigning.
To give an example of how bad John Whetsel is, take a look at his campaign website and click on the tab for “Sheriff’s Programs”. There is nary a word about the jail. But maybe I missed it and Whetsel talks about the jail elsewhere on his website, so I ran a domain-restricted google research for the word “jail” on his campaign website. The results were zero (don’t believe me, check here and see for yourself — also the corrections also isn’t found on his website either).
So one must wonder… does John Whetsel think that ignoring the jail and pretending it doesn’t exist will make it better? I hope the voters of Oklahoma County are smart enough to see through this.
I don’t support all of what the challenger, Mike Christian (R), stands for (most notably his positions on the failed war on drugs), but I do like what he has to say about the county jail, which is why he is getting my vote:
Ultimately, those who suffer the most from the appalling conditions of the jail are those who are unfortunate enough to be placed there. Most are low level offenders who are awaiting their day in court who simply need to be reminded that rejection of crime and reintegration into society benefits everyone. Many are people with mental health issues who, if recognized, could be treated properly and assisted to function in society. Some are truly bad people who will end up needing rehabilitation through long term incarceration which should not occur at this facility. However, none who step foot in that jail deserve to have their civil rights violated, be subject to the most dangerous jail conditions in the entire country, or face the potential of death as punishment for getting locked up. We are better than that and the people of Oklahoma County deserve better. I offer my initiative as a new direction for Oklahoma County.
Chris Powell (L)
But I also think it is striking that Powell is willing to actually talk about what he would be doing while elected (what a concept! – see http://powellforclerk.com/) while his opponent has nothing to say about the County Clerk’s office and its role, but instead brags about his endorsements by Governor Mary Fallin and his strong record of supporting conservative politicians (see http://hootenforclerk.com/about-david/). Hooten gives zero reasons why he is qualified to be County Clerk.
Anastasia Pittman (D)
I have also know Anastaia for a long time (and even ran against her as a Green party endorsed Independent for Oklahoma State House back in 2006). I sometimes have disagreed with her, but I’ve been long impressed by her willingness to keep talking to me. I think she would be great as court clerk.
As for her opponent, Rick Warren (R), this article explains well my primary objections with him: http://www.reddirtreport.com/red-dirt-politics/court-clerk-claims-criminal-case-expungement-top-campaign-priorities, namely that he doesn’t understand what things he can and can’t do as court clerk, but also has a pretty terrible record. His past criminal issues from the 1970’s are a non-issue but his more recent issues regarding his alleged mistreatment of County employees is a different matter.