This past year, I worked on a local campaign for a non-partisan candidate who had never run for office. It gave me some insight into politics and the problems people face if they try to unseat an incumbent or not be affiliated with a political party.
1. People really don’t understand government
My candidate was running for the office of the District Attorney. The District Attorney is a county-wide position overseeing all felony and misdemeanor cases. This is different than the City Attorney, whose office typically handles civil matters and misdemeanor cases within their city’s borders.
If only I had $1 for every time I heard this: “I can’t vote for your candidate because I don’t live in (city). ” This was said by voters I approached within the county.
Think about it. Most people don’t even understand one of the most important positions in local government, the District Attorney, who is responsible for prosecuting anyone within the county, including elected officials. It’s arguably one of the most powerful positions in local government but a vast group of voters don’t even know what the office does.
Do you know who your City and District Attorney are? Supervisor? State Assemblyman? State Senator? Judges?
We all complain about what’s happening in government, but do we even know the basics about the structure and who is representing us?
2. Incumbency Trumps Issues
There’s a term for what happens in elections. It’s called “The Incumbency Advantage.” It isn’t just name recognition, it’s established financial and party structure that helps an incumbent get re-elected.
Twelve years ago, we had a problem with the local District Attorney. 96% of his prosecutors had taken a no-confidence vote against him, two women had won a lawsuit against him (myself included) and he had other issues. The press was all over this and the paper, radio and television media talked about it night and day. When it came time for the election, he ultimately lost. By 1% of the vote!
Once a person is in office, what does it really take to get them out? If they’re affiliated with a party, do members of that party vote blindly for the person even if they’re doing a bad job? Do voters take the time to truly educate themselves about the issues or simply mark the box for the incumbent because it’s a familiar name and easy decision? Are voters aware that parties are dumping loads of money into that person’s race to assist in keeping the office? Are voters swayed by the broad brush stroke attack ads into voting for or against a candidate rather than exploring the facts and learning the truth?
Granted, many of the positions being sought for are outside voters’ areas of expertise. Those directly affected typically pay more attention, but voters need to take the time to educate themselves. If an office doesn’t have the best person running it or the best representative sitting on a council/board, the effect trickles down and causes issues that spread to other areas of government.
Are you complaining about what’s happening in government? If you are and want change, do you realize that trying to get a worthy person in office is like tilting at windmills because of the advantage held by incumbents and the apathy of voters?
3. Knocking on Doors Can Teach You a Lot.
Walk precincts sometime if you’d like to connect with the voting public. First, it’s always difficult to knock on someone’s door on a weekend. Who wants to be bothered when it’s time off? I greatly appreciated people who took time to listen and ask questions about the issues, even if they favored the other candidate.
Dogs are everywhere! The biggest lesson I learned is that if you’re not home, your dog isn’t very well behaved. I always knew when someone wasn’t there because of the insane barking and throwing of bodies against doors and walls. You should get a nanny cam just to enjoy viewing the insanity of your pet in your absence!
Please don’t be rude. Precinct walkers already feel bad enough about bothering you. I did see a direct correlation between rudeness and people who don’t vote.
4. HONK at people who wave signs!
I spent six hours each day for two days with another volunteer holding signs and waving at people at a busy intersection. Please don’t scream obscenities at sign holders or flip them off as you speed past. If you don’t agree, vote otherwise.
Thanks to everyone who waved, even if you weren’t voting for my candidate. Or honked. That always gives a fatigued worker a little boost of energy. So, if you want to make the day for people who twirl signs for businesses and anyone working such a thankless job– give them a little honk.
5. Please Educate Yourself and VOTE
Sometimes there’s so many candidates and propositions it can make your head hurt trying to figure things out. Because I’m a lawyer, people contact me to ask about who to vote for in the judge races. You can educate yourself about judges by reading their reviews in TheRobingRoom.com. Or take time to look online to see if there’s been problems with them. It’s like that with any position because the Internet has so much information about that person or issue that’s coming up for a vote.