Get Ready to VOTE!

Hey, if you’re on the island this Saturday, come on down to Five Corners around noon! Bring friends! Bring signs supporting the candidates and issues that matter to you!

That morning, at 9:30 a.m., Howes House, West Tisbury, the MV Dems meeting will be devoted to actions we can take in the last weeks before the desperately important midterms. Phone-banking and canvassing are on the agenda, and I’ll be talking about writing postcards to voters, both as a long-term strategy and as something we can do right now. We’ve got a postcard campaign going for our wonderful state senator, Julian Cyr, who’s got a well-funded GOP opponent. All hands on deck!

And note these dates:

  • Massachusetts voter registration deadline: Wednesday, Oct. 17
  • Early voting: Oct. 22 to Nov. 2
  • ELECTION DAY: Nov. 6, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Be there!

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An Open Letter to Senator Susan Collins

Dear Senator Collins:

You don’t know me. I’m not even a constituent. I grew up in and have lived the last 30+ years in Massachusetts. Like many another New Englander I think of New England as home. Though these six states differ from each other, and each one is diverse in and of itself, they do have a few things in common.

When I was growing up, nearly all of my relatives were Republicans. The exception was my father, a Roosevelt-supporting Democrat. Republicans in those days generally favored small towns, small government, fiscal responsibility, and a somewhat laissez-faire approach to personal matters, best summarized by the variously attributed quote “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.”

The GOP has undergone a sea-change since then. If any of my older relatives were alive today, I’m pretty sure most of them would have left the party for the ranks of the unenrolled. A few might even have become Democrats. I am writing to you in the hope that you might be one of those old-style Republicans, of the kind I grew up with and you probably did too.

And yes, I am writing about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. The news reports say that you are still undecided — or at least undeclared. A while back you said that you were reassured by Judge Kavanaugh’s statement that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” I’m not sure there is such a thing as “settled law,” and based on his other statements and decisions I don’t think he supports a woman’s right to choose abortion. Yesterday you were reported as saying that you thought that the FBI appeared to have conducted “a very thorough investigation” of the allegations that as a young man Judge Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault. Given the speed of the investigation and the long list of potential informants who were never interviewed, I have to disagree.

However, though I do believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account of what happened in 1982 and greatly admire her courage for coming forward in 2018, I no longer think that the decision to vote for or against Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court should rest on what happened in 1982 or even on his apparently anti-choice views.

Having watched Judge Kavanaugh’s astonishing performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, I do not need an FBI investigation to tell me that this man is unfit to sit on the nation’s highest court. A man who can’t manage his own anger, who gives vent to conspiracy theories that are unsupported by any evidence, who can’t be civil to the senators asking him difficult questions — this is the kind of behavior that if done in the street, would scare the horses. It’s scaring me. It also scares me that so many congressional Republicans have managed to rationalize this behavior and find it acceptable.

Senator Collins, my mother was an alcoholic. I grew up with this kind of explosive anger. I grew up with a mother who was even-tempered and reliable when sober and a harridan when drunk. I’ve seen such Jekyll/Hyde behavior in others over the years, and heard the stories that my recovering alcoholic friends tell about their drinking days. Interestingly enough, most of my mother’s co-workers weren’t aware she was an alcoholic. In the office she was sober. Within half an hour of getting home, she was stumbling, passing-out drunk.

I know how this works, Senator, and as a result I strongly suspect that Brett Kavanaugh is an alcoholic, maybe an actively drinking alcoholic or maybe a “dry drunk”: an alcoholic who isn’t drinking but hasn’t taken any steps toward recovery. I can’t come up with any other hypothesis that explains what I’ve seen and read during this confirmation process. It explains Judge Kavanaugh’s many failures of memory, and the striking contradictions between how he recalls his own behavior and how his friends recall it. It explains his belligerence toward Senator Amy Klobuchar when she asked him about his drinking.

By focusing so narrowly on what happened in 1982, the FBI has shed no meaningful light on Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. It did not need to, for his unfitness has been on public display during this confirmation process. I see it, and virtually everyone I know who’s dealt with alcoholism up close and personal sees it. I hope that you are like those old-style Republicans I grew up with and can see it too.

Sincerely yours,

Susanna J. Sturgis
West Tisbury, Massachusetts

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September License Plate Report

Two good catches for September, one at the beginning of the month (Oklahoma) and one at the end (Montana). After scanning my updated map, I realized I had colored Montana in but not added it to the list. That’s now been fixed, but I’m too lazy to scan it again.

One afternoon toward the end of the month I was driving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven. On a hunch I turned left into the hospital parking lot, where exotic out-of-state plates often hang out thanks in part to the travel nurses and doctors who augment the staff during the busy season. I parked, strolled around — and there it was: Montana.

The busy season is passing, but I intend to play my hunches from now to the end of the year.

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How to Make Popcorn

Sometimes one just has to have popcorn for supper — or breakfast or lunch, but for me it’s always supper.

Last night was the night, so here’s how I make popcorn.

My method does not involve prepackaged popcorn or the microwave. I’ve got nothing against that method, not least because popcorn thus produced is a staple of my Sunday night writers’ group and I eat more than my share of it.

A housemate from my D.C. days, Beverly by name, taught me how to make popcorn the old-fashioned way. Beverly could do anything, like fix things and play the mandolin. I’m still kneading bread at a little table she rescued from the alley behind our group house and stabilized with dowels between each pair of legs. She was also responsible for the A LESBIAN WAS HERE sticker still stuck on the table’s little drawer, and the I’D RATHER BE READING ADRIENNE RICH sticker on one of my old file cabinets.

But I digress.

First, assemble equipment and ingredients. Once the popcorn starts popping, you don’t want to be hunting for them.

  • pot with tight-fitting lid
  • popcorn
  • vegetable oil
  • butter
  • toppings of your choice (my perennial faves are nutritional yeast and fresh-ground pepper, but grated Parmesan is also excellent)
  • big bowl
  • knife

I use an old 2-quart Revereware saucepan. It makes just enough for one person with a dog who loves popcorn.

Pour into pot just enough oil to not quite cover the bottom. Into oil drop 3 popcorn kernels. (This is not a magic number. You can drop 2, 4, or 5 kernels into the oil, but whatever you do remember how many you put in.)

Cover pot and turn up heat. You want hot but not scorching hot. Do not for any reason leave the pot unattended. Pretty soon you will hear pop, pop, pop. One pop for each kernel you dropped into the pot. See why remembering the number is important?

Remove the lid — see the nice fluffy popped kernels? — and pour in just enough popcorn to not quite cover the bottom of the pot one kernel deep. Replace the lid.

Don’t go anywhere. I keep one hand on the handle and give the pot an occasional jiggle to keep the kernels from getting burned. Once the corn starts popping in earnest, keep jiggling the pot. Steady is good. Frantic isn’t necessary.

Pop pop pop pop pop pop . . .

Once the popping slows way down, give the pot a few jiggles to make sure all the unpopped kernels get their chance at the bottom.

Pour about 2/3 of the popped corn into the bowl and sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Pour in the rest of the popped corn, sprinkle with a little more topping, and stir gently with knife to distribute toppings.

Into the hot pot put about a tablespoon of butter and put pot back on stove. You can turn the heat way down or even off if the burner is electric: the pot alone may be hot enough to melt the butter.

Drizzle melted butter over the popcorn and mix gently with knife.

By the time I get the bowl to my chair, Trav has taken up sphinx position close to my feet. I munch some popcorn, toss him a handful, munch some more popcorn, toss him another handful, and repeat till popcorn is gone. Then he gets to lick the bowl clean.

Tools of the popcorn popper’s trade. Not in picture: knife and 2-quart pot.


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Grayroots Rule

Of course I knew fashion designer Lorraine Parish by name — didn’t I pass her stylish shop every time I drove in or out of Vineyard Haven? But Fashion and I don’t exist on the same planet, so even though Martha’s Vineyard is an island, it’s not surprising that our paths never crossed.

At the Mass. Indivisible conference, November 2017. From left: Lorraine Parish, Holly MacKenzie, me, Margaret Emerson, and Kathy Laskowski. Missing: Carla Cooper.

Until last November, when we found ourselves in the same car with three other Vineyard women, heading for the statewide Indivisible conference in Worcester. Politics is notorious for making strange bedfellows. It also makes for interesting traveling companions. In the course of two hours to and from Worcester, not to mention 45 minutes each way on the boat, you learn more about your fellow travelers than you know about people you’ve known for years.

Lorraine wrote about her personal journey to political engagement and our trip to Worcester in the Martha’s Vineyard Times: “Get Active: Local Women Find a Cure for the Political Blues.”

After that I started running into Lorraine a lot. At a postcard party for Doug Jones, then the underdog candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, Lorraine announced that she was planning to go to Alabama to canvass for Jones in the run-up to the December 12 special election.

Yeah, right, I thought. True, Lorraine grew up in Alabama and had contacts there, but after a few decades on the Vineyard I’m used to hearing — and having — big ideas that come to nothing. The place has a way of squelching any bold idea that dares stick its head above ground.

But Lorraine not only did it, she wrote about it for the M.V. Times: “Flight to a Fight.” (Go ahead: follow the link and read the story. The woman can write.)

So when Lorraine started talking about the Grayroots Movement, I put my hard-won skepticism on hold and paid attention. Her idea? To catalyze “a Democrat and Independent movement dedicated to encouraging and mobilizing our older citizens in becoming politically active in the campaign process for our candidates around the country.” The plan was to, in the fall, in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections (that would be now), to go on the road in the Northeast and maybe elsewhere to mobilize “older citizens” in support of Democratic candidates in hotly contested swing districts.

Michele (left) and Lorraine selling and modeling Grayroots Ts outside Cronig’s Market, Vineyard Haven

And she’s doing it! Through the summer she and another “Silver Warrior,” Michele Ortlip, have been tending a table several days a week outside Cronig’s, selling Grayroots Ts and Ts, totes, and caps with the Lorraine-designed D-Vote logo and raising both consciousness and funds for the road trip.

Aside: The whole world knows that I have at least five times more short-sleeve T-shirts than I can wear in a single summer, but the Grayroots T has LONG sleeves so of course I bought one.

Michele models the D-Vote logo in three options: cap, T, and tote.

I love the D-Vote logo! Currently it features this year’s general election date — November 6, but you knew that already, right?? — but as Lorraine has noted, it can be customized for other elections or particular candidates. I am, however, seriously serious about NO MORE SHORT-SLEEVE T-SHIRTS.

At least for the moment . . .

If you’re on the Vineyard, you can buy Grayroots and D-Vote swag at Lorraine’s shop on State Road, Vineyard Haven, or (if you’re in the right place at the right time) from her table at Cronig’s.

If you’re somewhere else, here’s the ordering info.

If you’re in or know of a district that could use an assist from the Silver Warriors, drop Lorraine an email. Districts in the Northeast are most reachable, but Lorraine is planning to do some on-the-ground campaigning for Peter Joffrion, running for Congress in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, so you never know.

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Primary Day at the Polls

Tuesday’s primary election didn’t eat up all of my day, but it consumed most of it — especially if you include going to see RBG, the acclaimed documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the Vineyard Haven library at the end of the day. I’d missed at least half a dozen opportunities to see it earlier in the year, and I’m really glad I grabbed this one. The room was packed, and like all library events it was free.

At the movie I did run into one person who didn’t realize there was a primary election on — this was around 8:45 p.m., 45 minutes after the polls closed, so it was too late to do anything about it. My candidates did well, apart from Josh Zakim, who got trounced by the incumbent secretary of state.

The Public Services Building, where my town votes

I was signed up to work the 7 a.m. to noon shift at the West Tisbury polls — by the way, why are polling places invariably referred to with the plural “polls”? No one ever says stuff like “I spent two hours holding a sign at the poll.” A poll is either a survey or the top of a horse’s head between its ears.

As a newbie poll worker, I’d only worked in town elections before, the 2017 selectmen’s race and a ballot question earlier this year when the turnout barely made it into three figures. This was my first biggie.

The early hour wasn’t a problem because I am a morning person, but it did mean I had to get up at 5 so Trav and I could take our usual hour-long walk. It was pretty dark when we left the apartment, but it lightened up quickly and I’m pretty sure Trav preferred the pre-sunrise temperature to the muggy midmornings when we usually head out.

At 7 a.m. we were all settled in place: two poll workers at the check-in table by the entrance, two at the check-out table (one of whom was me, tending a looseleaf notebook listing West Tisbury voters from Larson to the end of the alphabet), constable John Powers at the ballot “box” (which looks like an elegant lectern with a horizontal slit on top to feed your ballot into), and the town clerk’s table, staffed by town clerk Tara Whiting (who’s in charge of all things electoral) and assistant Dinnie Montrowl.

Tara made a run to Fella’s up the street and came back with coffee and breakfast sandwiches for all. The coffee was excellent and the breakfast sandwiches likewise. Watermelon chunks and bananas were also provided: the morning shift was very well fed.

Shortly after the polls officially opened at 7, the constable predicted that the turnout would be 402. After 13 hours of steady, sometimes brisk traffic through the room, the final tally was well over twice that: 939. West Tisbury currently has 2,543 registered voters, so by my calculation a shade under 37% of us voted. Island-wide the figure was 33%. Not bad for a primary, especially one held on the day after Labor Day.

Signs at the end of my road for gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez and clerk of courts candidate George Davis. Both of them won!

It was pretty clearly local races driving the turnout. Lawn signs for candidates for clerk of courts (T. George Davis and Charlie Morano) and register of probate (Daphne Devries and Gail Barmakian) have been dominating the Vineyard roadscape for weeks, far outnumbering those for any of the state races.

While checking out, one voter pointed to her ballot and said she hadn’t heard of either Bob Massie or Jay Gonzalez, who were contending for the Democratic nomination for governor. The statewide races have been on my radar since the 2017 state Democratic convention, and over the summer they were a frequent topic of conversation among my politically engaged friends — this is what happens when you become a political wonk!

Voters give their names at the door, then the poll worker checks them off and notes their party affiliation, if any. Registered Democrats get the Democratic ballot, registered Republicans get the Republican ballot, and because Massachusetts is an open-primary state, unenrolled voters can take the ballot of either party. The poll worker then records D or R to indicate which ballot each unenrolled voter took.

Voters mark their ballots in the booths that line both walls in one corner, then give their names again at the check-out table, where we also marked D or R for the unenrolled voters. Contrary to the usual color-coding, Democratic ballots are red at the top and Republican ballots are blue, which means you have to pay attention. (I’m not sure what color the Libertarian ballot is. Only one candidate appeared anywhere on the Libertarian ballot, running for state auditor, and no one cast one on my shift.) After that, under the eyes and occasionally with the assistance of the constable, voters feed their ballots into the “box” and receive an “I Voted” sticker. Quite a few of these stickers wound up on the exit door.

At the end of the day, the numbers from the check-in and check-out tables must match each other and the number on the ballot box: how many people voted and how many of each party’s ballots were cast. The double-check system came in very handy at one point when one voter’s name couldn’t be found in the check-in book. The voter was surprised, but glitches happen: with the town clerk’s guidance he had just started to fill out the form that would allow him to vote when his name did appear in the check-out book. Turned out the check-in book was missing the page with his name on it. A photocopy was duly made.

Just before noon, my relief showed up, so I cast my own ballot and went home — where despite my good intentions I didn’t get much work done. At 5 p.m. I was back at the polls, outside this time, holding one sign for George Davis and another for Keith Chatinover, who was running as a write-in candidate for Dukes County Commission. This is hands-down my favorite election day story. It goes something like this:

Keith just graduated from the M.V. Public Charter School in June, but he’s already a seasoned activist. Among other things, he’s active on environmental issues with We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos, and earlier this year he organized the buses so that 80+ students and a few adults could make the trip to D.C. for March for Our Lives. He’s delayed starting his freshman year at Middlebury College till January so he can help build the blue wave for the midterms.

So late in the afternoon of September 3 — Labor Day, the day before the state primary — he decided to run as a write-in candidate for Dukes County Commission. Old political hand Tristan Israel, longtime Tisbury selectman, advised Keith to get on the phone and start calling everyone he knew. Keith had a better idea: he declared his candidacy on Facebook. Before long his announcement had been shared a few dozen times and a bunch of us were emailing and otherwise contacting our friends, who went on to contact their friends.

Writing a candidate in is more complicated than just marking the oval for someone who’s already on the ballot. There’s space for write-ins, yes, but you have to write legibly, and you have to mark the oval next to the name you’ve just written in. Write-in candidates with more lead time often produce labels with their name and address that are just the right size to fit into the space on the ballot. Keith had no time for that, but he made slips of paper with all the necessary info that voters could take into the voting booth with them.

Keith needed 25 valid votes to get himself on the November ballot. He got 308 — including about 110 from my town: more than a third of the total came from the island’s fourth largest town. Keith kept rallying the troops — in person and on social media — before the polls closed, then posted an update and acceptance speech on Facebook the next morning. No way could this have been done on the fly by telephone. In case anyone was still wondering — Social Media Matters.

Keith’s campaign sign. Since the 2016 election many of us have honed our sign-making skills at the many rallies and demos we’ve taken part in.


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August License Plate Report

August was looking like a total bust, then what should drive by while I was pulling out of the library parking lot in beautiful downtown West Tisbury but Nebraska.

Moral of story: Good things happen when you go to the library.

Pickin’s are always slim in the last few months of the year, but I’m not giving up, and I’m keeping my eyes open. Also I’ve got a library book due tomorrow.

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Of Primary Importance

Way back in the spring I wondered whose bright idea it was to schedule the primary for the day after Labor Day. Good grief, thought I, we’ll still be catatonic from summer and who has time to think about politics when you’re dodging tour buses, explaining how to get from here to there, working two jobs, looking after kids who’ve been sprung from school, etc., etc., etc.

Point taken, but having become something of a political wonk, I’ve spent a fair amount of time this summer going to candidates’ fundraisers, meeting candidates, reading up on candidates, and doing other wonky things, so I’m going to pass some of what I know on to you. As usual, take what you like and leave the rest.

Postcard by Mary Hawkins of Mary Likes Postcards. Check her out on Etsy!

For the TL:DR folks: The Massachusetts primary is next Tuesday, September 4. There are several important races on the Democratic side, and some excellent candidates running. Vote, goddammit!


Jay Gonzalez, hands down. I’ve been following the governor’s race since the 2017 state Democratic convention. What struck me about the (at the time) three candidates was that they weren’t far apart on the key issues: access to health care, leveling the economic playing field, protecting the environment and dealing with climate change, etc. So in my research I paid particular attention to each candidate’s experience: Did he have what it will take to actually achieve these goals? Jay’s got it. As Deval Patrick’s secretary of administration and finance, he managed the commonwealth through the recession of the late 2000s and helped Massachusetts win its highest bond ratings in history. (This is important because it makes it cheaper to borrow money for important projects. Btw, our rating has slipped noticeably under the current Republican governor.) As a former health insurance exec, he led the way in expanding health care access to low-income families and creating new jobs. Jay also focuses strongly on early childhood education and increasing child-care support for working families. I could go on, but if you want to know more, check out Jay’s website.

Lieutenant Governor

Jimmy Tingle, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor

You know what? We have two excellent candidates here, Jimmy Tingle and Quentin Palfrey, and I’m still going back and forth. Their platforms aren’t all that different, but they would bring different strengths to the job. Quentin has the more conventional political background — he worked in the Obama White House and in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office — but Jimmy, as longtime stand-up comic and commentator, is an ace communicator at a time when government at all levels desperately needs people who can get out there and listen. I voted for Jimmy at the state Democratic convention in part because he spoke so eloquently of his own recovery experience (you can listen to the speech on his website) and he brings so much gut-level wisdom to dealing with the current opioid epidemic — and all the other challenges we’re facing right now. My head says “Quentin” and my heart says “Jimmy.” I trust that by next Tuesday they will have worked it out.

Secretary of State

Josh Zakim, Democratic candidate for secretary of state

No hemming and hawing here: I’m supporting Josh Zakim. One major lesson I’ve learned as a newbie political wonk is the importance of secretaries of state. In most states, they’re the ones who oversee elections. As of April 2018, there are only 11 Democratic secretaries of state, and all the swing-state secretaries of state are Republicans. This has had terrible consequences for voter suppression and access to the ballot. (For more info, visit iVote’s website. They’re doing great work on this front.)

Massachusetts currently has a Democratic secretary of state, but he’s been in office a long time and the state is lagging behind in making voting easier. (Writing postcards to voters, I’ve learned that some red states are doing a better job with this than blue Massachusetts.) Consider: When a lower-court judge ruled that our state’s requirement that you have to register 20 days before an election was unconstitutional, our current secretary of state challenged it in court — and was upheld by the state supreme court. Fifteen states and D.C. offer same-day registration — why can’t we?

Josh is committed to expanding access to the ballot and to upgrading the technology to make this easy for local election officials. He’ll work to increase voter turnout in all elections. As secretary of state he’ll play a more active role in supporting the right to vote nationally — the way our attorney general, Maura Healey, has on legal issues.

Clerk of Courts

Driving around the island recently you had to have noticed that there are many, many more yard signs out there for candidates in the local races than in the statewide ones. If you, like me, have minimal contact with the courthouse, you may have wondered WTF the clerk of courts and the register of probate do. One of the many upsides of being a novice political wonk is learning this stuff.

The clerk of courts maintains court records (financial, legal, etc.), adjudicates in small claims court, educates prospective jurors, hears appeals on speeding and parking tickets, and more. Doing the job well requires a range of abilities plus the right temperament and the ability to listen. This is why I join a whole bunch of people who know more than I do in supporting George Davis. George has it all — plus he plays a mean guitar.

Register of Probate

I’m not 100% decided on this one, but I’m leaning toward Daphne Devries. She’s been acting register of probate since her predecessor retired in June 2017; before that, she was the deputy assistant register. She knows the job, loves it, and from what I hear is good at it. The register of probate’s office does much more than keep records related to divorce, child custody, wills, and so on. Day in, day out, it also helps people negotiate these complicated and often stressful matters — which requires the ability to listen carefully and sympathetically and communicate clearly. For more about the job and the candidates, see “Two Vie for Register of Probate” in last week’s Vineyard Gazette.

But What About . . . ?

I’m also enthusiastically supporting for re-election State Senator Julian Cyr, Attorney General Maura Healey, and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. They have no primary opponents (it seems we Democrats know when we’ve got great people in office!), but they will have competition in the November 6 general election. Julian in particular faces a tough race against a well-funded GOP opponent.

Our equally wonderful state rep, Dylan Fernandes, has no opponents in either the primary or the general, so when he’s not busy on Beacon Hill or in the district, he can sometimes be found campaigning for other progressive Democrats, including Julian. (Have I said lately that we are so lucky in our elected representatives??)

Travvy says “Vote Blue!”

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July License Plate Report

Sorry, I’m running a little late here . . .

Sighted in July: Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington (state), Louisiana, New Mexico, and Idaho.

The first three were later-than-usual sightings. Louisiana can be tricky, and for some reason I saw several Arizonas before New Mexico showed up.

Stuck in traffic going into Vineyard Haven one day — well, not exactly stuck; probably creeping is the better word — I got all excited because I was right behind Utah. When I got home, I realized I’d spotted Utah in June. My brain is fried. It’s August, and the weather has been swamplike for over a week.

Hope to catch some of the missing states in August, because after August the pickin’s are mighty slim.


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Voting Pep Talk

Long time ago, like in 2012, I blogged “Should We Be Required to Vote?” My answer was no. It’s still no.

At the end of that blog post I wrote “People fight hard and even die for the right to vote, but all too often once we’ve got it, voting doesn’t seem worth the effort. What’s going on?”

Me campaigning for Dylan and Julian, November 2016

Since early 2016 I’ve been more involved in electoral politics than ever before. That year I actively campaigned for Dylan Fernandes, who is now our state representative (and an excellent one he’s turned out to be), and Julian Cyr, who is now our state senator (ditto).

This, coupled with the disastrous results of the presidential election, prompted me to not only register as a Democrat — Massachusetts is an open-primary state, which means that if you’re unenrolled in any party you can take any party’s ballot in primary elections — but become involved in Democratic party politics. (My blog post about that has been gestating for several months. I will finish it soon, I promise.)

Travvy jumps for Dylan and Julian.

Just this year I’ve collected nomination signatures for several candidates, attended the state Democratic convention as a delegate, staffed a voter-registration table, and written something like 850 Postcards to Voters. There’s nothing like hands-on experience to teach you what you don’t know, so I’ve picked up a few insights and even answers to my 2012 question “What’s going on?” Why do so many USians not vote?

First, a couple of observations, gleaned from people across the country who are old hands at this stuff:

  • GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts are a major part of political campaigns. Getting voters (1) registered, and (2) to the polls absorbs serious time, energy, and ingenuity.
  • Republicans turn out for primaries and special elections. Democrats? Not so much.

The Public Services Building, where my town votes

What this says to me is that many of those who do vote aren’t in the habit of doing so.  For sure some people do show up for every election, but when primary turnouts are regularly under 30 percent of registered voters, it’s clear that many people don’t. This is true even in my town of West Tisbury and on Martha’s Vineyard in general, where polling places are accessible, lines are non-existent, and no one’s out there trying to intimidate voters.

Look at what Alabama voters, especially African-American voters, had to put up with in order to cast their ballots for Doug Jones in last December’s special election: long — hours-long — lines at the polls, polling places that were hard to reach by public transportation, the intimidating presence of police officers . . . The GOTV efforts of the Jones campaign and its allies were herculean — and they paid off.

“Your vote matters” sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? When you look at the votes cast in a congressional race, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, never mind the tens of millions of votes cast in a presidential election, it’s hard to imagine that one more or less could make a difference, BUT . . .

Doug Jones won his U.S. Senate seat by just under 22,000 votes, a rather small margin for a statewide race. Conor Lamb won his special election for Congress from Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (known to us political wonks as “PA-18”) by 755 votes. That’s out of 227,449 total votes cast. In many of the state legislative races I’ve written postcards for, the margin of victory was been in the low hundreds. Thanks to the Electoral College, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election was decided by a few thousand votes in each of several swing states.

Still, it requires faith to believe that “your vote matters,” and matters enough to make you go out of your way to do it. When the evidence all around you suggests that voting doesn’t matter, it’s hard to keep the faith.

As I noted in my 2012 blog post, making voting compulsory is “a superficial fix for a much deeper challenge” — and the challenge is to make voting matter. One sensible reason for not voting is that our “electoral options often boil down to Doritos vs. Pringles, McDonalds vs. Burger King.” In the wake of the disastrous 2016 election, thousands of people across the country have stepped up to expand those options by running for office themselves. Many thousands more have stepped up to help get those candidates elected.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes speaks; State Senator Julian Cyr (left) listens.

Campaigning for Dylan and Julian in 2016 has made voting matter more to me, and not just because both of them won. Now I have a personal connection to both my state rep and my state senator that I didn’t have with any of their predecessors. They’re over here regularly, despite the challenges of representing a district that includes two islands (three, if you include Cuttyhunk, whose year-round population is about 20).

We’re lucky where I live: our elected representatives show up in person. U.S. senators and representatives don’t come round so often because their districts are so much larger, but they do come round. In other places people see their elected officials only at election time, if then. Small wonder that they believe voting doesn’t matter — in itself it often doesn’t.

Constituents have to hold their elected officials accountable, and turn them out if they prove unresponsive. And that means getting out the vote — persuading those who rarely if ever vote that they aren’t suckers if they act on faith and take time out to vote as if their vote matters, or might matter.

If you need more persuading, consider the efforts that the GOP has been putting into discouraging voters who aren’t likely to support them. They’re afraid of something. Maybe it’s us.

Postcard by Mary Hawkins of Mary Likes Postcards. Check her out on Etsy!

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