Burbank: You have meaningful decisions to make on your ballot

By John Burbank

Have you had your ballot on the kitchen counter — for almost two weeks now — and still not opened it up to vote? Or maybe you forgot where you put it? Or maybe you recycled it, and now don’t know where to get your ballot to vote. Or maybe you just want to wait until the last minute to vote. I hope that is the case.

Looking at the ballot return statistics from Snohomish County and statewide, it seems a lot of people are in at least one of these situations. In Snohomish County, as of Tuesday, 16.8 percent of voters had returned their ballots. That’s 1 out of 8 voters, not too much to cheer about. Statewide, about 25 percent of voters have returned their ballots. Hey, Snohomish County: Time to wake up and vote!

Two areas do stand out. One is the tiny corner of the 7th Congressional District in Edmonds, Woodway and Mukilteo, where two Democrats are contesting the general election. The other is the town of Woodway itself. Voter turnout in both areas exceeds 20 percent already. These areas, especially Woodway, are more affluent than the county as a whole. It’s a microcosm of the problem, or really the bias, in American voting in general.

Wealthy people vote more often than the rest of Americans. In 2014, almost half of Americans had household income under $50,000, while less than one quarter had incomes greater than $100,000. But the more affluent were almost twice as likely to have voted in the 2014 elections. And as you go down the income continuum, voter turnout just drops and drops. In 2012, for families with income greater than $150,000, turnout was over 75 percent. For families with income between $50,000 and $75,000, turnout was about 65 percent. For families with income between $40,000 and $50,000, turnout fell to 60 percent. Every step down in income equals a drop in voter participation.

In our state we can’t blame this on not being able to get to the polls on a work day. We vote by mail, and we have almost three weeks to mull over our decisions and mark up our ballots. We are hindered by a voter registration deadline a full eight days before the election. That definitely trips up people who have moved, are juggling jobs and family, or are just disconnected to the value of voting in a democracy.

But back to those who are already registered to vote (over 460,000 people in Snohomish County), have received their ballots, but haven’t voted. If you just don’t care and don’t want to exercise the most fundamental right in a democracy, I urge you to reconsider. No doubt there are good reasons to feel disconnected from the process, but walking away just opens the door to more consolidation of power and privilege for a smaller and smaller cohort of more and more affluent Americans.

You say you don’t like either candidate for president? Well, your ballot has more — including your opportunity to actually make or change the law, by voting on initiatives that more than 350,000 Washington citizens have signed in order to put them on the ballot.

These could have a direct impact on you, your neighbors and your community. Initiative 1433 would increase the minimum wage and put in place a statewide paid sick days law. Initiative 1464 would end the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists, put a lid on private funding of campaigns, and institute a citizen-based public financing campaign system. Initiative 1491 would enable police and family members to prevent mentally ill and violent people from obtaining guns. Initiative 732 taxes carbon output, reduces the sales tax, funds the tax credit for low income working families, and eliminates the B&O tax on manufacturing.

So take your ballot out from that pile on your counter or your table and fill it out. Exercise your rights under the Washington State Constitution: “the people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature.”

Did you lose that ballot? You can get a replacement right now. Go to www.sos.wa.gov/elections/voters/ to download a replacement ballot. If you don’t have a computer, go to your local library.

Don’t wait any longer. Don’t wake up on Wednesday, Nov. 9th, spy that ballot and think, oops, missed another one. We are Americans. We vote!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

Correction: An earlier version of this column gave an incorrect number for Initiative 732, regarding a tax on carbon emissions and a reduction of the state sales tax rate.

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