GOtV: 2016 Election Issues That Matter
Election 2016 marks my 11th presidential election since I became a voter in 1972. My generation was the first to take advantage of the 26th Amendment, granting the right to vote at age 18. It was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971 and ratified on July 1, 1971.
Can anyone seriously imagine that process being repeated in 2016 in that time frame? Even those of us who lived in the days before divided government can hardly remember a time when this nation was capable of doing big things here at home.
We just reached an important voting milestone in this country. For the first time in U.S. history, voter registration in America has hit the 200 million mark in people registered to vote. That is an increase of 50 million new registrants since 2008; a 33% increase in voter registrations in a year where the campaign has been the ugliest in living memory.
Yet for the first time since 1965, we have no Voting Rights law that covers the country. In fact, 17 states have enacted voting restrictions involving voter ID or other requirements for the first time in a presidential election. And we know from a Government Accountability Office report in 2014 that voter ID laws can reduce voting by 2 to 3 percent, particularly among young people, blacks and newly registered voters.
How many of those 200 million plus voters will actually get to the polls is unknown right now, but early indications are there is a lot of interest in those states who allow for early voting. New York is not one of them, so we’ll have to wait for Election Day to see who comes out this year.
Every year the pundits like to say that the stakes have never been higher, but in 2016, the stakes really have never been higher. The results of the Presidential race and those for the Senate and the House will determine what kind of a country we live in for the next 4 years. Just some of what is at stake:
Money in Politics – This ought to be self-evident in 2016, if any issue is. In race after race, the money that has poured into the campaigns comes from too few hands, many of which have a political agenda that does not comport with that of the average citizen.
Wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and other entities can use any of a range of vehicles -- including super PACs and tax-exempt nonprofits -- to invest in independent expenditures, electioneering communications and communication costs to try to sway the outcome of an election. While such groups aren't supposed to coordinate with the candidates they're supporting, they can coordinate with each other, and often do so in choosing which races to target with their funds. Learn more about outside spending on your federal candidates at: https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php
Energy & Climate Change – These two issues are closely linked and in the case of energy, it is also closely linked to the outside money discussed above. How energy is produced and where it comes from affect jobs, the economy and the environment, especially as it relates to climate change, environmental quality, and health. We’ve seen that up close here in New York State as hydrofracking has been discussed. We’re also seeing it play out on the national stage at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota over the pipeline protest. When is comes to climate change, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and nearly every professional organization of scientists have said it is real, man-made and a problem. You can track the amount of money going to your candidates at http://dirtyenergymoney.org/
Gun Violence – From strictly a public health perspective, America is in crises from gun violence. Hardly a day goes by but what somewhere in America a toddler uses an unsecured gun to shoot him or herself, a parent, or another child. School shootings still happen with depressing regularity in our nation, and guns play a significant role in domestic violence incidents and death by suicide. Candidates usually want to talk about the 2nd Amendment when it comes to guns, conveniently forgetting about that all-important controlling first clause about a well-regulated militia. There are roughly 300 million firearms in the United States and tens of thousands of shootings each year, rarely at the hand of a well-regulated militia. Once upon a time in America, we voted in our locals schools. That is not the case in2016; education officials are rightly worried about the threat of gun violence at polling places. (Hello Banana Republic.)
Jobs & Wages – This issue really boils down to income inequality. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the economy has undergone a dramatic shift. Most average Americans have yet to recover, and most probably never will, since the solid blue collar jobs the Middle Class relied on are largely gone. The average income for the 99 percent (where most of us reside) is lower now than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation. For the 1 percent, Happy Days are indeed here again. Last year, the average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent to $1.36 million. And if you are a single parent household (which are overwhelming female), you much more likely to be poor.
Education – Nothing touches the American family like education. We have 50 million K-12 students in this country and 90 percent of the costs for keeping them there is borne by state and local taxpayers. And when it comes to higher education, the costs there have millions of students swamped by college debt they often can not find a job that makes enough for them to pay back their college loans within their working lifetime. We are seeing education debt peonage soar in this country. Did you know that about 74% of all undergraduates enrolled during the 2011-12 academic year possessed at least one characteristic of a nontraditional student, denoted by part-time enrollment, working full-time, identifying as a single caregiver, not having a traditional high school diploma, or financial independence?
Health Care – The good news on health care is that about 9 in 10 Americans now have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The bad news is that millions still don’t have it and the costs are going up. The U.S. remains the only first world nation that doesn’t treat health care like a right, an investment in itself, its people and its workforce. We spend far more on health care than any advanced country, and our people are not that much healthier. And we’ve seen scandal after scandal by the prescription drug industry. One recent glaring example is the cost of EpiPens by Mylan. Another is the escalating price of narcan, the drug used to save countless lives in the opioids drug crises - 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Now we learn that the trade group for the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA, is gearing up to defend drug prices after the election, seeking an additional $100 million in annual dues from its members, to boost the lobbying group's budget by 50 percent, giving it more than $300 million to draw on. The money in politics is costing the end consumer.
Civil Rights - from Black Lives Matter to LBGTQ Rights, civil rights have been a hot button issue during this campaign. These issues turn on one question: What kind of a society do we want? Do we choose the politics of inclusion or the politics of exclusion and hate? And many of the civil rights questions we look at today will hang on the judicial appointments of tomorrow. Most especially on the Supreme Court of the United States which has been handicapped without a ninth justice now for months. Racism and misogyny have both been issues in Campaign 2016. Given the current political climate on civil rights and the gridlocked Congress, the outcome of the federal elections on November 8 will go along way toward determining how we move forward – or backward – as a nation.
So cast your vote in November 8, but only after you have thought long and hard about the issues, where your candidates stand on those issues, and what kind of nation you want to live in. Because it won’t just be you living with the consequence of those decisions. It will be your children and grandchildren – and mine – and everyone else’s.