As we head into any election season, here’s an important reminder:
If someone wants your vote, make them earn it.
That’s how this whole thing is supposed to work. You get to set the bar for your own vote. And while it might feel invigorating to think about sending someone packing, riding a wave, or taking back a district, we should all remember that trading one shade of hyper-partisanship for another on Election Day is a result that doesn’t address the systemic issues that created the political, social, and economic climates that have us all so polarized.
That’s not to say candidates can’t help change those systems. But most politicians rely on them to get elected and re-elected. If systemic change is going to happen, we have to demand it from them. When we don’t, we leave it to party bosses, sustaining donors, and all the shady characters whose power depends on maintaining the status quo to set the agenda for our government.
We deserve representatives who will challenge the status quo and disrupt the dysfunctional cycles that keep us at each other’s throats. If someone wants your vote, don’t lower the bar for them. Don’t settle for the same old politics-as-usual tactics. Make them earn it.
Here’s how you do it:
- Push them for substantive and thoughtful positions on complex issues. Do they rely on divisive language and buzzwords? What is their ratio of hyperbole to nuance? Are they ever disingenuous? How authentic are they? How often are they just parroting their party’s talking points?
- Have them commit to getting big money out of politics. While you’re at it, ask them who their biggest donors are and how much of their time and energy they put into fundraising. Question how much of their campaign funding came from wealthy connections, exclusive country-club fundraisers, or even those bougie wine-and-cheese meet-and-greets inside the homes of strategic influencers. How much money was funneled to them through a political party? You can have their most recent campaign finance reports ready to help the candidates find the answers if they don’t know or get it wrong when you ask.
- Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their personal wealth or their social class. Their worldview will influence the decisions they make on our behalf. If they are wealthy, for instance, how do they plan to reconcile their reality with that of the overwhelming majority of us who aren’t? If they’re an executive, what will they do to give more power to working-class folks?
- Ask them about their ties to the community they’re seeking to represent. How deep are their roots? Do they have a genuine connection to the people whose votes they want, or are they a carpetbagger looking to engineer an opportunistic victory?
- Have them describe a recent situation where they resisted peer pressure at great risk to themselves. They’ll need to stand up for their constituents, and there will be times where it may cost them their next election. Are they prepared to lose so that the people they serve can win?
- Challenge them for an honest critique of their own political party. Have them elaborate on the biggest issue where they believe their party is wrong, and then ask them what they will do to change it.
- Ask them to tell you about the last time they made a decision at work that hurt a lot of people. Why did they do it? How did it make them feel? What did they do to make sure they don’t make the same mistake again?
- Ask them for clarity around the specific things they’ll be fighting for every day. Then ask them what kind of compromises they are willing to make with people who represent folks that want something different.
- Have them publish and publicize anything they tell you. This helps us all hold them accountable. If they change their position on an issue, follow up and ask for a published explanation. Demand transparency, candor, and humility because we deserve no less from the people we trust to govern and represent us.
- If you only have the chance to ask one question, ask them to explain why they deserve your vote, but make them do it without mentioning their opponents or political parties. If a candidate needs to vilify their opposition, they’re doing something wrong. If they’re using fear to compel your support at the polls, that’s not democracy. It’s extortion.
So make them earn it.
Do it because your vote is valuable. Do it because we need fewer politicians and more public servants. Do it because the color of a district doesn’t matter nearly as much as the character, integrity, and effectiveness of the person who represents it. Do it because this is an important one.
They’re all important ones. ✅💪🏻🇺🇸