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The Ballot: Only as Good as its Candidates

The power of voting is a curious thing. In a democratic republic it is the singular power the average person has to instill their will on authority. Its power is direct and implicit. Provided you turn 18 and, in most areas, stay out of the grasp of the law, it's your permanent and sacred right. I once wrote a little about this.

But, as true as this is - the notion that as citizens we control our country, state, and community's destiny through this simple process - it is only as good as what's given to us. To most people, the process by which we nominate those that we can cast a checkmark for is convoluted, crude, archaic, or just plain confusing. Frankly, the vast majority don't even know where to start in explaining it, as evidenced by numerous focus groups and surveys. I'd like to think I'm someone who pays maybe a little more attention to this than maybe the average bear, and even I need to stop myself before I attempt an abbreviated, and likely quite wrong, explanation.

In many ways, our major political parties prefer a cryptic process to a purely democratic one. Some reasons for having these political committees are useful and understandable. In today's money moshpit of political power, parties and associated fundraising entities need to consolidate decisions and share their internal resources to control what is spent and how. Having a lineage and consistency in this process builds roots and a foundational structure upon which campaigns can operate efficiently and successfully. It allows for building a roster and bullpen so that this political conveyor belt can continue to operate, build structure within a community, and most importantly, establish long connections and relationships within that community so that it can learn how to best serve its constituents over the long term. In short, we need people who know how to run government on Day 1.

But, this process can create clear and evident problems. Firstly, it breeds that perception that a few dictate the needs and decisions that affect many. This opaqueness between you and I and those that nominate the candidates we cast votes for, particularly in this political climate, only serves to foster more questions than answers. And with a little flame-fanning, breeds a level of distrust, founded or otherwise. Second, it can severely limit the talent pool readily available to run for office. Without the right connections, the hoops by which an average citizen can take a leap into the crowdsurfing game of electors are narrow and many. This is particularly ill-suited for, as an example, busy parents of young children who may want to run for School Board seats: a position they, in many respects, could be very well suited for.

The two party system isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and it's also not one I have strong opinions on. I am an unabashed Democrat in almost every respect. I absolutely hold, at times, an appetite for what I view as logic and common sense above party, but that doesn't change my core leanings. That said, I think allowing for a more transparent, inviting process to promote a wider crop of candidates with a shot at actually winning elected office is well suited for either (or any) political party. It forces different discussions, more frank and honest dialog, and ultimately the formation of creative solutions to systemic issues that are more practical and impactful to the rest of us.

There is a major and much-needed movement today to increase voting accessibility. The manipulation of districting, voting locations, hours, and inconsistent and unfair micromanaging of process (particularly those affecting largely minority communities) are issues as old and profound as voting itself. I think we also need to promote a much-needed movement to increase potential CANDIDATE accessibility. This starts with our major political parties at the local level displaying an openness, dare I say eagerness, to appeal to the working mom with two kids lending a credible voice on BOE. Or to the recently retired serviceman applying their experience to important community issues and joining a Common Council.

These (mostly) unpaid jobs are thankless and hard. We owe anyone in these roles, whether we agree with them or not, a debt of gratitude. No matter who is there, they are doing the community a service just getting in the chair. But, they're likewise incredibly important. Too important to just boilerplate a checkmark beside, I feel. The electorate deserves candidates that speak to them, and the only way to do that is make it palpable, if not welcoming, to run for those jobs.

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Sarah LeMieux
Sarah LeMieux
Oct 08, 2022

I know there has been a lot of vocal opposition to government meetings being held on zoom, but I was talking to a local parent yesterday who was so happy that she didn't have to pay for childcare in order to be able to participate in public comment -- or even leave her home, after coming back from a long day at work. It also allowed for embedded real-time translation. The way the structures of government have developed over time has limited access to participation to those with spare time or spare money or both, and I think it's important to consider that question of accessibility and how it affects representation, when we think about governance in our community too.…

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