Our democratic process is the best in the world, yet it does not come without flaws.
Flaws are inherent in a system that insists it is our democratic responsibility to vote but doesn't stress the need for researching the candidates. Un-informed people should find another way to spend the few minutes it takes to vote - like, go get an ice cream cone or call a friend on the phone. The intention is not to take away anyone's right to vote; voting is a right and a privilege. However, unless we vote for someone we truely believe in, what have we accomplished? It is possible to give your vote to an unqualified person if you choose to vote based upon who had the most posted signs or commericals or many of the other reasons people choose their candidate.
Here are some of the many reasons a person may vote for a candidate?
Note: Many of these will apply - whether voting for positions for school boards, townships, villages, county offices, state or national.
Voting for someone ONLY because she is a woman.
Don't vote for someone just because she is the only female running. Trust me, you haven't helped any women's causes. You don't know her. She might be the kind of woman who seeks men's approval and therefore will never dare to disagree with them [even on sexual harassment issues]. By the way, who said men can't be sensitive to women's issues? They can and many are. On the other hand, if you have researched and find her a great candidate, there is no reason not to vote for her.
Voting for someone because they are professional-looking or good-looking.
Remember the saying, "Clothes do not make the person." A well-dressed man or woman only means they have good taste in clothing. Not all good-looking people are qualified to watch over and make critical decisions regarding ourselves, our children, or our country. Unfortunately, they may also judge others by how they dress and that is not how one should judge the quality of another person.
Voting for a business owner.
If you think that just because a candidate owns their own successful business, they might be able to financially help your district, you must remember that in a government office they will not have the leeway they had in running their own business. And their business usually was run with one objective in mind - to make money. Governments are different from a business. They are much more complex. People are not commodities or products. They are human beings with needs and emotions. In government, we serve all the people not just those we like.
In school board elections, you cannot expel a student simply because they do not fit your ideal. In a business, if someone doesn't produce, they are "out the door." They can find another job somewhere else. Schools are instructed to teach all levels of intellect and attitude. The newest slogan is "no child left behind". Another sad note: Because of the strength of the teacher' union, schools have much greater difficulty firing "bad" teachers then expelling a student.
Voting for someone who has been endorsed by others.
Now this one is sort of insulting. Are we not intelligent enough to make up our own minds? If a company requires suits and dresses in their dress code, it is unlikely that they would endorse anyone who didn't exhibit their dress code. A Christian endorsement usually requires a candidate to support "the right to life." A woman's group might require the opposite, even though most local elected offices will never vote on this issue.
If the endorsement came from the local teacher's union, it should not be for a school board member. A school board member is not supposed to represent the teachers, a school board member represents the students, parents and taxpayers.
Perhaps endorsements should stop and a complete portfolio of each candidate should be made available. The portfolio should include a phone number, addresse, website and email, so a voter can reach the candidate. Forums are another way to inform the public of the candidate's platform and character. They should be publicized well in advance and open to the public. Candidates should be required to attend or at the very least have their information available.
Voting for someone who is defending their own agenda.
This candidate decided to run because they were unhappy with a decision the previous board made. With this candidate, you might get stuck with someone who isn't in for the long haul. As soon as their issue is amended to their satisfaction, what will motivate them to fulfill the remaining years of obligations as a elected official? Their ambivalence may show up whenever an action doesn't affect them or their family personally.
Voting for someone who is great friends with other politicians [or in the case of a school board candidate friends with all the teachers or administration.]
Will this candidate do justice to the real people he/she is supposed to respresent ...namely, the taxpayers and others such as the children who are not yet tax payers but desperately need respresentation. Or is this person just joining a social club and enjoying the recognition and prestige of being important?
If running for school board, It is okay to be friends with teachers, as a whole, they are a great bunch of people. However, having someone represent you who spends the majority of their time only with teachers may unknowingly bring a bias in their school board contributions and decisions. Unless they associate with others how would they know what the taxpayers and students need and want?
Voting for a popular person.
Be wary of people who run because they like to be in the limelight. They seek power and recognition. They may have been the football heroes, cheerleaders, valedictorians of the past, or they may be someone who was ostracized and has a point to prove. Can they truely put the past behind them and do what is best for those they represent? Some of them, yes. Some of them, no.
Voting for a group of candidates running together.
This sometimes shows up in the case of school boards or local government offices. To vote for a group of people, such as "vote the top two" or "vote the final four" serves to enhance all those candidates' ability to get elected. But does it contributes to "owing favors" to the others. Would they be expected to think alike and vote alike in repayment? Why bother voting for four if they all think alike? It is like getting four little carbon copies - how boring, how insulting, how detrimental to our school board or township offices. We need independent thinkers who are not afraid of a little discussion.
Voting for someone who has children who are academically or athletically "at the top."
This is in the case of school boards and it is a hard one. Do not disregard anyone who has highly successful children. Some can be very fair in their decision-making. However, pay close attention as to whether they feel superior to other parents. Many take the credit for their child's success and therefore expect that all children would be successful if they had parents such as they. They go on and on about how great their son/daughter is and lean heavily on supporting only excellerated and honors classes, neglecting the majority of students who perform in the mid-academic range. They may not have the compassion and understanding needed for students who are underachievers or those with lesser abilities. This same argument applies to those who have children who excel in athletic endeavors. Make sure their primary focus is not the athletic department.
That covers many of the candidates we shouldn't vote for and why, so what qualities should we look for in a representative?
Look for someone who will listen to you if you have a concern.
They should explain to you whether your request has merit and why. Perhaps you have disagreed with a decision that has been made. You need a representative who will share their thought process without violating their executive session "gag order". There may be more to an issue than they can share. You need to be assured that they did not come to their decision lightly.
Check on their previous community involvement.
There may be candidates who have been involved quietly in school committees and the community for some time. Their continued and long-term involvement should hold an advantage over the typical candidate who just came aboard in the last two months before the election. They have shown enough interest in the school and/or community to give up their free time to affect changes and understand the procedures. In a school district there are numerous committees and teams, as well as volunteer work one can do, besides just athletics. Certainly someone who has already given up their free time is dedicated and would be in for the long haul.
Strive to choose someone who has high ethics and morals.
Choose someone who displays good moral character in their personal life as well as public life. A person does not have to be "squeeky clean" but they should be willing to tell the truth about mistakes in judgement and learn from them. [Mistakes does not refer to major indiscretions or breaking the law.]
A school board member is a representation of the district and an example to students. Choose someone who takes this non-paying time-consuming calling serious enough to give credence to everything brought before them; someone who studies and learns the policies and procedures of the school. Choose someone who can remember who they represent - the parents, the students, and the taxpayers of the district. they should take the teachers into consideration but they do not represent the teachers. [The teachers have their own union representation.]
Pay attention to signs and posters.
But also pay attention if some were in a location and are suddenly missing, while others remain. [If they are all missing it usually indicates that the police department has removed them because of a violation in placing them.] However, if only one or two candidates signs end up missing, it usually indicates michieviousness or downright sabotage by opposing candidates [or their supporters.] Carefully consider whether you want to vote for someone with those kinds of unscrupulous and unethical behaviors. Signs are expensive and cannot be replaced easily because of the long waiting period for printing. This malicious behavior could considerably change the outcome of an election.
Understand the ballot card.
The ballot card also creates confusion. Instead of letting the voter know that you can vote for less than the number of candidates asked for, it just says "Vote for Four." Do most voters know that means you can vote for one, two, three or four candidates? Voters are concerned that if they do not vote for four candidates their ballot will be invalid. Always ask the attendants and then vote for only those you really want to win. This ensures you are not increasing the numbers on the other candidates that you have no confidence in. There are times that a different candidate would win if this rule were known.
If we are truely going to make changes, we must take our voting priviledge serious. We must spend some time researching candidates so that when we take the time to vote we know we are voting for the person we truely want to win. When we vote we are exercising our Democratic rights - when we research we are exercising our Democratic responsibility.
See you at the polls.
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