Month: September 2020

The Right and The Responsibilty to Vote

In my last blog post (Voting as a Social Connection) we walked back through the major voting rights changes in the United States since its founding. Clearly in each “era” of our history more and more people have gained the right to vote in our country, so why don’t more people vote?

Don’t we all feel a personal responsibility to participate in our system to both impact the outcome AND legitimize the process?

This is a huge and complex problem, but it is also a problem that has been studied and a panoply of causes of non-participation have been identified. Let’s review some high-level statistics and a few major reasons eligible citizens don’t vote.

In our best recent years participation in our elections has been at about 56% of eligible voters. This is largely representative of presidential elections and dips to 36% during midterms. Pretty dismal. I am sure we could do better.

Remember the increase in the population of eligible voters, especially in the 20th century, from all the legal changes that expanded voting rights? Unfortunately, after the late 1890’s the percentage of eligible voters participating in elections consistently worked downwards to where it is now, but was at nearly 80% prior to that time. More people attained the right to vote, but many of them and/or others are not consistently choosing to participate. What gives?

Ballot/Primary Access – Even our first President didn’t speak too highly of political parties in his farewell address, so why do we have them, and why are only two typically in play in national elections? Power and control. Between vote % counts needed to even have ballot access and closed primaries to independent/unaffiliated voters, if you don’t typically vote red or blue you often can’t vote or don’t have anyone to vote for. It is hard to feel a responsibility to vote when there are no options that reflect your affiliation and ideas. Inviting more platforms and parties to also participate in debates and providing them with the same national visibility would definitely help engage more voters.

ID Challenges – 21 million Americans don’t have a government issued photo ID. Accept that this is currently true. Accept that the reasons why are some of the same reasons why many functions of every day society we take for granted are not universally available to everyone. In states where such an ID is required to vote, a barrier is erected. Recent legal challenges to new voter ID laws have expressed concerns about these laws being much more of a modern voter suppression technique rather than trying to prevent fraud that has consistently been found NOT to exist. It is hard to make good on your responsibility to vote when the establishment prevents you from doing so. Felons in some states can make this argument as well.

Voter Registration & Process Red Tape – The voter registration process, deadlines and frequent de-coupling from actual voting varies from state to state. This creates a confusing process that is often not well documented so getting it wrong can be easier than getting it right. Responsibilities are often complex and require considerable effort to uphold, but I bet we can do better. States with same day registration consistently record higher voter turnout.

Electoral Integrity – Some people feel their vote doesn’t count. When it comes to Presidential Elections and the Electoral College it is hard to argue that there isn’t a problem. Electoral Votes don’t count the same by population/state in this country, and the entire process easily heads into dispute when the electoral outcome is so badly mismatched to the popular vote as it was in 2016. Three million votes different! The integrity of the process and the idea that a person’s “vote doesn’t count” is a disincentive to people to participate, so some don’t. And in states that have lower electoral integrity (a multi-vector assessment, Washington Post) voter turnout also lags. How can we expect people to vote if we can’t provide more of a guarantee that their effort is worthwhile?

Well, this problem has a problem. We need more people to participate in the process so we can make and keep meaningful changes to that process so that it better benefits all of us. In some cases those changes must come first so that we can give voting access to people who we wish to join us. On others, we need to make changes that increase options and diversity within our process so that more voices can be heard. Much of this will require voting for new leaders who recognize the challenges and benefits of change to our process.

This is why we are Making Good Trouble and helping Rock The Vote this year. If we can help get more voters engaged, registered and out to vote we feel it keeps us moving in the direction we all want to go.

Will you help us?

Are you registered to vote? Do you have your voting plan set?



Voting as a Social Connection

Most people think of voting as a political act. The way I said that isn’t meant to challenge that idea, voting IS the act of casting ballots for the election of actors we perceive as functioning politically, but there is more at work.

Voting binds us to each other in how our laws and our social functions are supported and upheld by those in government that we elect. We enter into a contract with everyone else when we vote for specific people to lead us towards goals we deem worthy and just. But, just how much do we understand that relationship?

Sadly, more than you would think if you only consider the optimistic side of such a question. It is OUR country, for US and by US after all, isn’t this just obvious and easily taken granted? Maybe. But what about other conclusions that could be drawn?

Whenever there has been an attempt to suppress the lawful vote for any American, at the heart of that effort is always the clear recognition that allowing everyone a voice would create the possibility that “undesired” experience and priorities might creep into the conversation and somehow impact the outcome those who aim to prevent that expect. For some, the idea that certain “lesser” people would be even be allowed to be in a social contract with them is just repugnant. For such people stopping the “others” from casting votes, and therefore influencing governance, becomes an imperative. This concern is present across differences in gender, race, economic status and political ideology.

Most Americans can’t really put together more than a high level timeline for voting rights changes in the US, the practical impacts the changes did AND most often didn’t have, the persistent problems, or make any real case that the progress we have made is acceptable when so many people are still regularly challenged when they attempt to vote. That is a real shame, because knowing that everyone is able to exercise their right to vote is the only way you’ll ever know that your right to do so is also safe. We are bound to each other through this right, and we must protect it for all or we risk losing it for ourselves.

Here is a quick reminder of some American voting rights milestones:

  • 1700’s – Property owning white men are generally the only people allowed to vote
  • Early 1800’s – The property ownership requirement began to be lifted
  • Fifteenth Amendment (1870) – Americans could not be denied a right to vote based on race
  • Later 1800’s – Poll taxes and literacy tests, most often in the South, were used to limit who voted
  • Nineteenth Amendment (1920) – Women win the right to vote without gender discrimination
  • 1924 – The Snyder Act, Native Americans were granted citizenship, and therefore the right to vote
  • 1952 – Immigration & Nationality Act, allowed immigrants from several communities to attain citizenship and therefore the right to vote.
  • 1960’s – Voter suppression continues to ramp up, most often in the Southern States
  • Twenty Fourth Amendment (1964) – Poll taxes outlawed, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966
  • 1965 – The Voting Rights Act passed by Congress. Outlawed many voter suppression tactics and forces states with a history of voter suppression to submit voting change plans to the Federal Government for approval
  • 1971 – Voting age reduced to 18 years of age (from 21)
  • 1975 – Voting Rights Act expanded to include support for additional languages for Americans to use in the voting process
  • 1982 – Voting Rights Act extended, and with additional priorities for the disabled
  • 2002 – Legislation to help modernize American voting infrastructure passed
  • 2013 – Supreme Court removes the portion of the original Voting Rights Act that required some states to submit voting change plans
  • 2013 Since – Voter suppression tactics have returned to many states, including some with very specific identification requirements as well as significant closures of polling places in locations whose demographics look hauntingly familiar from past eras of suppression
  • 2016 Since – Political campaign messaging about voter fraud often doesn’t match evidence and leads to confusion; attacks on alternative voting methods breaches states rights relative to elections and causes additional confusion
  • 2020 – COVID and concerns over the safety of in-person voting…

What a long, strange trip this has been. And we’ve not arrived anywhere just yet. To understand that one form or another of suppression had led to significant numbers of Americans NOT achieving the right to vote until just the last 50 years is simultaneously both sad AND telling for how current this topic is. We are still preventing thousands of Americans from free access to voting, and we are all suffering from the downward drag this continues to have on our society.

Please vote. Please help your family and friends get registered, know their voting options and cast their ballots.

We will be stronger when everyone who has the right to vote can, and actually does. We can all share in the respect that this act has for our commitment to each other and our society. Please vote to protect all of it.

This blog post is from a series about voting, voting rights and the importance of exercising your right to vote as part of the Making Good Trouble campaign. Read about how we are Making Good Trouble this Fall as we support Rock The Vote with voter registration and voter education events to help connect more people with the voting process.

National Voter Registration Day is September 22nd. Events will be going on all over the country to help get voters registered as well as make sure they know how they can vote where they live.

Local organizations StayWorkPlay and NH Rocks are hosting the NH Rocks The Vote campaign this year. The web site has great local voter resources, including information on absentee voting and the deadlines for voting in NH this year.

We release Making Good Trouble, a new draft mead made from Brazilian Quince Blossom honey, on October 1st to celebrate voting rights and the upcoming election in which we hope everyone gets out and votes.  Funds raised from pints and growlers of this new mead will be donated to Rock The Vote.


Making Good Trouble


“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” — John Lewis, 2012

There are lots of opportunities to reflect on privilege and sacrifices these days. The mere act of me safely being able to sit at the bar at my business and bang away at this keyboard is an example of the incredible privilege I have in my life. I’m sitting here writing a blog post about the importance of exercising one’s constitutional right to vote in the United States. Some people could only dream of spending their time this way.

It’s true that I’ve never really had to fight for anything in my life. I grew up in the suburbs, went to college, started working in my chosen field right out of school and have successfully used my skills to do quite well. I am grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way, being able to safely chart my own course is not to be trivialized. But, many people never get such an opportunity. 

Along my journey I’ve also had plenty of experiences that have shown me exactly how different things can be for other people, and because of this I’ve always been respectful of my privilege, respectful enough to lean in and listen when important lessons about inequity and systemic bias that has stripped my outcome from the hands of others were being told. What I’ve learned has been turned into action. 

From an early age I have volunteered time, and money when I ultimately had some, to the Boy Scouts, Appalachia Service Project, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and more recently to the American Cancer Society, the New Hampshire Food Bank and a number of other organizations that provide services to people who need help with a spectrum of challenges. I have done this for the sole reason that I know how valuable it is to be able to use my abundance and privilege to help others make their own way in this world.

But, change is still needed. Inclusion in all facets of our society for all Americans is still not the norm everywhere. In some places people still hold the bias that skin color alone is something to make a decision based on. That bias is not just one of thought, it is also one of action. Our system isn’t equitable for everyone, because not everyone agrees that it should be and some vote to keep it the way it is. That’s not good enough for me. 

So what do we do? Elect better leaders. Elect leaders that surround themselves with the kinds of people who make things better for everyone, not just themselves. 

At this point I could veer off into a partisan diatribe about the issues and fighting for or against something, but that isn’t going to get anywhere. I’m not the arbiter of thought for everyone, and my take on the issues isn’t something I’m going to push on others. More importantly, most people won’t listen long enough right now to an obviously partisan point to result in any real, meaningful discussion. It’s clear our educational system has failed us magnificently, but that is a post for another day. 

But, I can encourage participation in the process as both an act of nonviolent protest against the status quo AND an optimistic act. If enough people participate in the process (and here’s to hoping more than ever before) the desired changes will come, and maybe sooner as opposed to later. 

So as John Lewis said many times we must “get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

In his honor we are making a mead named “Making Good Trouble” with proceeds benefiting Rock The Vote, a three decade old organization with a mission to connect young people (primarily) with the voting process so that they can develop a habit of making their voice heard. 

I am registered to vote. I vote. I am reasonably confident that my vote is secure. Once again, I find I have privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. I owe it to every one of fellow Americans to fight to ensure the security of their vote as if it were my own. If I don’t, who can I expect to be fighting for my rights when they have the station to do so?

This year COVID is having its way with our electoral process and the daily (and hourly some days) headlines about the methods by which people can vote, and not, are having a dizzying impact on people’s lives as they wrestle with casting their ballots. It shouldn’t be like this, but remember the systemic bias from above? It’s back in this paragraph.

So, what do we do? 

First, know your options. What voting options does your state offer? In person, mail-in, absentee, early voting, etc. Make sure you know what the options are for your local and state elections as well. Research them with your state and local government resources. Ignore the trolls on social media. 

Second, know when you must act. Elections have different deadlines for different methods. 

Third, pick your method and plan your voting actions. VOTE!

Margot and I recently voted absentee for the NH primary election. We used the state website to complete an absentee ballot application, and our ballots arrived from our town clerk a few days later. This year the State of New Hampshire added COVID safety concerns to the list of disabilities allowed for absentee voting. I believe this was a smart change to ensure everyone has a method available that doesn’t require them to take excess risk during a pandemic. 

The process of completing the ballot was simple, it’s the same scannable one we would see at the polls on election day. We signed the affidavit on the inner envelope and then sealed it and it into the outer envelope. We decided to return then in person to the town clerk, which Margot did. We could have mailed them back, but the post office is about the same distance from our house as the town offices, so this made sense for us. The process was simple, and included an ID check, as well as an affidavit that my ballot was returned by a lawful representative, in this case my spouse. 

Overall it was a very smooth and convenient process. 

When we requested absentee ballots we were able to request both the NH Primary AND NH General Election ballots in one request. This means we have ballots on the way for November, and we expect to use the same process to return them as we did this time. 

I hope the example of what we did helps illustrate the important research and planning work needed to make sure you secure your vote and make sure your voice is heard. 

This is our call to action. Know your options and plan how you will cast your vote. And once you have, keep an eye out here to learn more about how you can help us secure the vote for so many others so that they may safely and securely vote to ask for the changes we all want to see in our world. 

ROCK THE VOTE by Making Good Trouble!


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