Point Austin: Your Vote Is Your Voice
Austin prides itself on civic engagement: It’s time to prove it
I had a quick look back at Austin's voting statistics for the last couple of election cycles, and the results look mixed at best. In the Nov. 2012 charter election, 60% of registered voters (about 299,000 people) voted, and 76% of those voted to move our May municipal elections to November (a move primarily intended to improve turnout). Then, in November of 2014 – the historic first 10-1 Council election, also predicted to encourage greater turnout – only about 40% of registered voters managed to work down to the bottom of the ballot, even with the temptation of once again rejecting (57-43%) a mass transit rail plan disdained by most of the rookie Council candidates.
Still, both numbers run a good deal better than the 10% that turned out for the May 2012 city election (mayor and Council only), so I suppose we're making progress. Just for fun, I checked May's referendum-initiated election to impose the Uber/Lyft version of local democracy – no regulations on corporations not first approved by those corporations – and we managed a whopping 17% turnout (88,000 votes). Uber and Lyft did slightly better than rail.
All of this leads to an exhortation to get off your duff, early (Oct. 24 through Nov. 4) or on election day (Nov. 8), and add your voice to our political community. This year, there's an additional incentive for progressives who have long relied on unfavorable political conditions in Texas – "We can't win, so what's the point?" – as an excuse either to register a protest vote or skip the polls altogether.
Donald Trump has accomplished what two decades of desultory Texas Democratic Party efforts have failed to do: turn Texas into a swing state. The latest polls have Hillary Clinton within two to four percentage points of winning Texas – within the margin of error. Sure, it's still a long shot: But do you want to look in the mirror on Nov. 9 and wonder if you could have helped make the difference in turning Texas into a competitive, two-party state?
Endorsements to Chew
That's one matter to ponder if you require more motivation. Elsewhere in this issue, we provide the Chronicle endorsements for your consideration (p.30), and we certainly hope you will read (and vote) down through the state races into the Council seats, and to the city transportation bond – however you feel about it, it is crucial to Austin's future. Reading through those election histories, it's dispiriting to compare the total turnout (e.g., for president) to the comparatively measly numbers reflected in the down-ballot races.
As Chronicle writers, our News group tries our best to provide abundant information on all contested races, and the staff and editors interview those candidates who are most qualified and in keeping overall with the paper's expressed progressive values. (Some skeptical readers thank us for letting them know who to vote against ....) If we haven't given you agreeable directions for voting, perhaps we'll have provided food for political thought.
Use Your Voice
In the latter category, a recent Nation piece by Katha Pollitt nicely summarized the major reasons for voting for Clinton – and they're not because she's more likable than her opponent, or more honest, or more knowledgeable and experienced and hard-working than her opponent (although all those things are true). It's because she represents and can act on progressive policies – not "lesser evils" – which she has worked for and defended throughout her entire political career (and for which we don't need leaked emails or endless investigations to confirm).
The list includes: reproductive rights, health care, voting rights, programs for children and families, public and higher education, criminal justice reform, workers' rights, progressive tax reform, international diplomacy, judicial appointments, gun control, environmental and climate protection, etc. Pollitt notes her own misgivings about Clinton's willingness to use military force internationally – nothing new, alas, from previous U.S. administrations, and going forward something to oppose. (See "12 Reasons to Vote for Hillary That Have Nothing to Do With Trump," Oct. 5).
But, like everything else on this ample list, none of it takes place or moves forward without public engagement and popular agitation. Under a Clinton administration (and perhaps a more moderate Congress), progressive forces will again have direct influence on policy, and the ability to raise effective opposition to backsliding or misdirection. Under a Trump administration, and with another hostile Congress, we would face four or more years of gridlock and reaction, without substantive access to national levers of power or even influence.
Many of the needed initiatives for social change – workers' rights, women's health care, renewable energy, etc. – start in places like Austin, but without a state or national political culture that welcomes them, they remain obstructed and largely unfulfilled. We've got a voter's chance to change that equation; let's hope most Chronicle readers will accept that challenge.