This article is a re-worked version of two articles I posted in the run-up to our last mid-term election. Voting is of critical importance for climate action, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever been unsure how to get basic information about the electoral process.
How do I learn about candidates?
Do I need to bring my registration card or ID to vote?
What exactly does the judge of the Orphan’s Court (or any number of other, less-publicized positions) do?
I’m not talking about people totally unfamiliar with politics, either (though if that’s been you until now, welcome aboard!). I’ve always been fairly politically aware and involved, but there was still information I didn’t know how to get and tended, therefore, to discount–and it’s embarrassing to admit, but for way too long I regard local elections as unimportant.
There are no unimportant elected offices. Not only might a local official be in charge of creating and implementing a lot of environmental policy (District Attorneys come to mind), but local offices can be springboards to national office. For example, I once met a candidate for a county-level position I hadn’t heard of before. That was Chris Coons, who now regularly appears on the national news because he’s a powerful member of the US Senate..
So, let’s do this. I’ll go through the research process for my own district, with a special focus on climate issues, and then we’ll both maybe find the whole civic-duty thing less intimidating.
The Voting Process
I’m in Maryland, and Maryland has a handy-dandy website where I can type in my name and zip code and get my registration record, polling place, whether I’ll need to show ID (I will not), and even a sample ballot. If I weren’t registered already, I could get registered through this site. Every other state I’ve tried has some version of this site, though they are not all equally useful and not all feature exactly the same information, but generally if you do an Internet search on “how to vote in [my state]” you’ll get your choice of websites at your service. You’re looking for the following information:
- What day is the election?
- Where is your polling place?
- Can you vote early? How?
- Are you properly registered?
- Do you need to bring identification or your registration card to vote?
- Who is running for what office in your district?
- If there is a problem with your registration when you go to vote, what should you do?
If getting to the polling place is difficult, look into absentee voting or see if a volunteer group can help with transportation.
The general election is Tuesday, November 6th, by the way. That is 21 days from today.
I looked up a sample ballot for my voting district using the website mentioned above. It lists the following races:
- Governor/Lt. Governor (they run together, on one ticket, in Maryland)
- US Senator
- Congressional Representative
- both houses of the State Legislature
- State Attorney General
- County Commissioner
- Judge, Court of County Appeals At Large (two of them, each up for a vote of confidence, rather than running against competitors)
- State’s Attorney
- Judge of the Circuit Court
- Clerk of the Circuit Court
- Register of Wills
- Judge of the Orphan’s Court
The sample ballot also lists all the candidates running.
The simplest way to check on the climate credentials of anyone who has ever been in Congress is to check out their score with the League of Conservation Voters. Each score reflects the number of pro-environmental votes (as defined by a large panel of environmental experts), plus the number of co-sponsored bills that didn’t reach the floor. The League divides “environmental votes” into several categories–“climate” is one of those categories, but so are “clean energy,” “dirty energy,” “drilling,” “air pollution,” and “transportation,” all of which are obviously part of the climate issue as well. If there is any way to subdivide an individual’s score by category, I have not yet found it, but it is clear that climate-related issues contribute significantly to the overall score and that an individual’s climate score cannot be larger than his or her overall environmental score.
The LCV is a great source of information both on incumbents running for Congressional seats and for candidates for other positions who used to be in Congress. For example, Hilary Clinton’s score (quite good, by the way) was very useful information when she ran for President.
But what about people who haven’t been in Congress?
Then we have to fall back on media coverage of their prior elected positions (if any), in some cases their non-political professional or volunteer work, and information supplied by their campaigns. It sounds difficult, but really all it takes is a couple of minutes poking around online. It’s true that campaign promises are easily and often broken, but someone who doesn’t bother to make environmental campaign promises is unlikely to prioritize those issues when in office.
It’s important to understand environmental issues, especially local environmental issues, so you know what positions actually are pro-environment (and which might have genuine environmentalists on both sides) and can sort out real positions from green-washing or political spin.
Voter Suppression and Misinformation
Two years ago, we saw the use of misinformation and social media memes to sway the electorate –that’s a little outside the focus of this blog, but please rely on substantive, verifiable information to make your decisions, not emotionally loaded memes and rumors.
Also outside of our scope here is voter suppression, but it does seem to be happening, especially to people of color. Please double and triple check your access to your polling place, your registration, and anything else that could possibly go wrong. Know your rights. If anyone does try to interfere with your vote, speak up. Do not let suppression go unchallenged or unnoticed.