Why I didn't vote last Tuesday

albany county ballot 2011-11-08

By Jennifer O'Connor

soapbox badgeTuesday was, of course, Election Day -- and for the third time in 12 years, I did not vote.

The first time I didn't vote was 1999. I turned 18 on October 3, was a freshman in college and was overwhelmed and misinformed about where to vote. The second time was in 2003. I had just moved to a new town and registered when changing my drivers license. The registration was never processed.

But this year, my absence from the polls was an active choice.

I'm registered at the address where I've lived since 2006, and my polling place is across the street. But, nearly every race for voters in Albany's 11th Ward (all but three, actually) was uncontested. I'm not talking about the "typical Albany" politics where there may be a Republican, or a third party, running that no one really takes seriously and has no shot of actually winning. No. Completely uncontested. The only candidate on the ballot.

I didn't vote last week, not because I didn't like my choices, but because I didn't really have a choice. As AOA stated on Wednesday, "voting for voting's sake is hollow." I didn't inherently have a problem with the candidates running. I avidly supported Chris Higgins in his 2007 bid for County Legislator for Albany County's 6th District. I don't know that much about Dan McCoy other than I know Chris avidly supported him. This in itself wouldn't make me vote blindly, but would factor into my decision. I would have been more likely to go and vote "none of the above," or write a candidate, if the candidates running unopposed were ones that I felt did not represent my values.

The Republicans have been pouring money and effort into races they think they can win, and I cannot argue with that stance. I was a little surprised (and disappointed) that the Green Party was not out and about, but they too have limited resources. I am wholly and completely frustrated with the rest of the "third party" lines in New York (Conservative, Working Families, Independence), who simply choose their favorite from the Big Two choices. These parties have means and a voter base to make a difference at the local level, and they choose not to do it.

I'm still grappling with my decision. I hate the level of voter apathy in this country, although I do understand it and I do sympathize with the frustration. Yesterday, I contributed to that apathy, and though voting for the sake of voting isn't much better, at least those who voted showed up, where I didn't. I took the rights my foremothers fought for and earned for me in 1920 and tossed it in the trash heap.

How do we solve this? It is easy to say that we should encourage more people to run for office, when in reality the solution is not that simple. I think it starts at a much smaller, much more local level. Do we read the local news every day? Have we made an effort to meet our representatives? Do we attend City Council meetings and contribute to the discussion? Do we contact our representatives - at all levels of government - when they're poised to make a decision on something that matters? I don't do as much of this as I should, though I try stay abreast of the issues and to speak up when it matters.

While I can't really blame one person (or one group of people) for the lack of choice in this year's local election, I can and do blame all of us, including myself. Our civic responsibility does not start and end with Election Day. If we want more choices and better candidates, we need to start speaking up and paying attention.

Comments

What do a handful of uncontested races have to do with the decision to not vote in the heavily contested judicial and school board seats?

Write-in?

My mother always submitted a write in vote for Mother Theresa when she didn't like the choices.

Judicial race and school board are pretty important, you can always vote on only some of the races and leave the uncontested ones blank.

Sad thing is, I heard people boasting about the fact that Albany is really a single party city. I've lived in a single party country before (former USSR). It's not democracy. It's not good for anyone. It's not America. It's sad. And anyone who'd boast is clueless about what true liberty, freedom, and democracy are all about.

Wish I had a solution, but my decision was not to live in Albany.

I strongly agree with the sentiment that civic responsibility must extend past election day. However, I can't support the statement "voting for voting's sake is hollow."

It is our duty to vote. We must be engaged in our government and voting is the least we can do. I was disappointed that I didn't have choices to make on Election Day. But casting my ballot is my way of saying "I am here and I am paying attention." If we don't express our opinion when formally asked, I am afraid the government may stop asking. That is why I go out of my way to cast my ballot in every national, state, local, school budget, and library budget vote. I am casting my vote for the right to continue to vote in the future.


I'm also curious why you thought that the contested supreme court and school board elections weren't important.

I wonder if it would make a difference if they added a line for "none of the above" - and if those numbers outweighed the candidates, they'd have to have another election. Costly? Maybe at first...but in time I bet we'd start seeing better candidates.

I did not cast a vote in any race with only one candidate. McCoy will have to earn my vote in the future. I made a point of voting in the school board race to vote against the pro-charter school candidate, who was an incumbent. And she lost so casting that vote was worth it.

"I'm also curious why you thought that the contested supreme court and school board elections weren't important. "

I third this sentiment.

I think there is a difference between voter apathy and intentional ignorance. Please don't take offense; it's not meant as a slight on you personally. However, there are those for whom the process has made them so jaded towards local elections that it's easier - emotionally and otherwise - to simply not vote and justify it with an argument such as the one you presented.

It creates two problems. One is that those contested races get ignored as well, which you either left off this post or simply didn't know about. The other is that it continues the cycle. The worst result of an uncontested race isn't that it occurs, it's that it instills the sort of attitude seen here that perpetuates further uncontested races.

There are other ways to make your voice heard. Find write-in candidates. Organize. Find out why these races are uncontested. Perhaps, even, run yourself, or if you're not into that, encourage someone else you know to run. And encourage them to do it outside of the machine in Albany.

Also, food for thought and something I'm genuinely curious about: why does this happen in a city as big as Albany yet in municipalities much smaller in size and scale - ie Saratoga Springs and Troy - equivalent races are not only contested but competitive?

There are many options when you don't like the choices - We've had historic wins in Albany, NY with write in campaigns in recent memory.

If you don't like any of the choices, walk in and leave it blank. I've done that with plenty of candidates I hadn't heard of or issues I didn't get a chance to research. But it's my job to show up.

I agree with LB, there was a lot of other issues that needed to be voted on.

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