A Note to My Young Readers on the Eve of a 12-Year Election

November 4, 2018
This one is for my younger friends, those who have come into their own adulthood and all the craziness that goes with it. This Tuesday, it's again our turn as American citizens to have a say in who we are as a people, and how we want to be governed. If you're already planning to vote, thank you - you can skip the rest! But if you're on the fence, or planning on sitting it out…..

Doubtless you have been lectured that this is your responsibility, and how much has been sacrificed for us to have this right. You might be disgusted with the behaviors of politicians and the older adults marching behind them, or think that your vote doesn't matter. Please read this, and if you still believe that, I'll say no more. I know, TL;DR. I'm going to beg forgiveness and urge you to read it anyway. I don't ask so lightly.

Yes, we are about to determine who represents you in Congress for the next two years, and yes, that's hugely important. But, you may think that state and local elections that are also happening don't matter much. These are the people who spend your money, who make the laws you live with every day, and run pretty much every aspect of the infrastructure of your daily life. And every 10 years, whoever is in charge of your state legislature gets to draw the electoral maps for the next decade, and decides what district you'll be in, and where to pack people who vote for the other party to lessen their legislative power.

So the election of 2018 is a 12-year election. You read that right. The people who win on Tuesday will be the ones tasked with drawing up those electoral districts when the next census is done in 2020. One party or the other can effectively lock up control of your state legislature until literally 2031. And control all the decision making about laws, budgets and everything else. How old will you be in 2031?

Because one party held all the power for the last redistricting, here in Virginia they drew districts that so favored them that by 2015 they were one vote shy of a supermajority (66-34) in our House of Delegates. In short, the minority party had no power to stop them at all, or have a voice in anything. Which meant that citizens in those districts who opposed the ruling party's ideologies and priorities could essentially be completely disenfranchised from their representative government. (And yes, both parties play these games all the time, which is another problem, which will have to wait til after Tuesday - one thing at a time!)

Still don't think your vote matters? We vote in odd years here in Virginia, so last year we had the first post-2016 election. All 100 of those House seats were up. 15 of them changed parties, going from 66-34 to 51-49. BUT, one of those 51 seats ended in a TIE. Exactly the same number of votes after a recount. To settle that one seat, and control of the House of Delegates, THEY PULLED NAMES OUT OF A HAT! And that is how the majority party kept the House.

Think about that. One vote more, and a different scenario. ONE VOTE, one citizen, control of an entire branch of the state government. Still think your one vote doesn't matter? Stick with me, there's even more to it.

Our state wanted to expand Medicaid under the ACA, but the previous House blocked it. Control of the House of Delegates meant health insurance for nearly 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians. Thankfully for those 400,000 folks, the measure attracted enough support from both parties to pass anyway. But that ONE VOTE could have determined whether or not those people had access to health care. One vote, health insurance safety net at least for 400,000 people.

Thanks for letting me speak my piece. I'm not going to tell you who to vote for; that's another one of those responsibilities of being a citizen of this great and imperfect nation that you need to figure out which candidates come closest to your values and vision. None of them are perfect. (Hint: neither are any of their constituents.) But staying home means that someone else decides for you. And have a big impact on your life and money until 2031. How old will you be again in 2031? I urge you not to sit this one out. You deserve to have a say.

Tuesday. Nov. 6th. I'm going. I hope you'll be there too.

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