Democracy requires its citizens to be active participants. Exercising your right to vote is the cornerstone of citizen participation. Bob Marley sang, “Get up, stand up for your rights! Don’t give up the fight!” The first step is being a registered voter. Yet, so many Americans do not vote or repeat the tired refrain of “my vote doesn’t count.” In 2016, we saw what happened when people do not vote. After winning the electoral college, Trump thanked nonvoters for his win.
Too often the media and citizens only turn out for the presidential election when it is local elections that have the greatest impact on everyday lives. If nationally your presidential candidate does not win, your vote locally has a greater impact – judges, district attorneys, prosecutors, state legislators, county officials, and federal representatives in the House and Senate for your district. Mid-term and local elections in 2018 are more important than who runs for president in 2020.
Ferguson, Missouri is a prime example of why your vote matters, especially at the local level. Ferguson has approximately 70% black population. Yet, when Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, ThinkProgress noted “50 of its 53 police officers are white. So are five of Ferguson’s six city council members. The mayor, James Knowles, is a white Republican.” Many millennials protested and marched in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. Police confronted protesters in military riot gear, pepper spraying and arresting individuals at random. The true test came less than a year later when Ferguson elections were held. As Aamer Madhani noted, “In the Ward 3 race, which includes the area Brown was from...only 19% of voters cast ballots. In 2012, the last time there was a contested election in the ward, only 6 % – just 168 voters – bothered to cast ballots.” In the end, a year after Michael Brown’s death, only two African Americans were voted on the city council.
People who say “my vote doesn’t matter” are similar to the people that say “there’s nothing that I can do to change the world.” Yes, there is! Get up and become active. One person can change the course of history. Our democracy depends on citizens actively participating. The old excuse that there are too many candidates on the ballot to make an informed decision is no longer valid thanks to BallotReady.
BallotReady was recently honored as a winner at the 2017 Chicago Innovation Awards. I spoke with Alex Niemczewski, CEO and founder of BallotReady about the genesis of the company. Alex said, “Most people are ready to vote for president and senators, but when they walk in the polls either guess or leave other positions blank.”
That frustration with the ballot prompted the creation of a voter guide for the entire ballot. BallotReady officially started in 2014, but the voter guide launched in 2015 with the Chicago ballot. In 2016, BallotReady covered 12 states and their entire ballot. Alex noted that the voter guide lists “who the candidates are, who endorses them, their stances, previous work experience and background information to make informed choices using automatic news feed from local news sources and Google news feeds.”
In doing research, Alex said that “sometimes states don’t know when local elections are happening so we have to go county by county. South Dakota implemented a law to fine counties that failed to report local election dates to the state election board. However, so many municipalities broke the law the state repealed it.” Alex continued that “sometimes the election is run by one person and 30% of local boards of election do NOT have websites.”
Due to the lack of updated communications, Alex noted that “we have to send faxes or email and they respond via snail mail. It can become labor intensive and you understand why voters don’t have information. In Chicago, the ballot in the November 2016 election had 95 votes to cast. 92 offices and 3 referendums. In Chicago, no retention judge has failed to be retained since 1992 and that included a judge that assaulted someone in her court. That judge was re-elected with over 60% of the vote.” BallotReady looks at all the bar association ratings that rank judges.
BallotReady’s site is mobile friendly allowing for easy use on a cellular device in the voting booth. BallotReady partners with the League of Women voters and civic organizations like Chicago Votes. BallotReady’s goal is to “cover every candidate and referendum in every election for people to complete the ballot without guessing and never miss an election.” With BallotReady, use your voting power to disrupt the political landscape!