Like a well-prepared student, voters should begin doing their homework for the next open-book civics exam. The Nov. 8 general election is 51 days away.
Admittedly, most of us simply glance at the ballot and fill in the box next to the name we recognize or the party we prefer. That calls to mind an axiom: “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”
Like many high-minded quotes, this typically is attributed to Thomas Jefferson, yet it does not appear in the comprehensive collection of Jefferson quotes at Monticello.org. But that’s beside the point.
No, the point is that Clark County voters will have a say in who is our U.S. senator and our congressional representative. They also will weigh in on eight legislative representatives and choose three county council members and six county executives. And they will decide on several proposed amendments to the county charter.
In short, voters will be determining what kind of community we wish to live in, choosing decision-makers who will help shape that community in the coming years.
That can sound daunting, but participating in the process is an essential part of being a citizen. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with saying: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
The first step, of course, is to be registered to vote. Prior to Nov. 1, voters may register online, in person at the Clark County Elections Office or by mail. A Washington state ID or driver’s license is required, and further details are available on the county website. Starting Nov. 1, voters must register in person to be eligible for the Nov. 8 election.
Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to vote; as legal website NOLO explains, “falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen can make you deportable.”
Simply being registered to vote does not compel one to vote, nor does it make for an informed voter. That is where the homework comes in.
The Columbian provides comprehensive coverage of high-profile races, and the Editorial Board conducts interviews with dozens of candidates. Those interviews are posted unedited online, allowing for an unvarnished glimpse of the candidates. The Editorial Board also provides recommendations to readers about elections for office and ballot measures.
The Columbian is not the only source of information about candidates; voters should seek out various viewpoints. The League of Women Voters of Clark County will hold a series of candidate forums, and information about candidates will be available in the Voters’ Pamphlet.
As the League of Women Voters website suggests: “Plan time to learn about candidates! These people want to represent you and are applying for a job with you as the employer. You deserve to know where they stand on issues and what their qualifications are.”
Indeed. Understanding that elected officials work for the public is one of the foundations of the American system of government. As somebody once said, “Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.”
That quote also is spuriously credited to Thomas Jefferson. But it calls to mind something Jefferson actually did write: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right.”
Keeping that right also involves the exercising of it in an informed fashion.