Nov. 6, 2018 is the date of the first midterm elections since 2014, where California voters will have a say in local, statewide and national issues ranging from our city councilmembers to the prices of our rent, to whether we as a nation decide it is necessary to hold Donald Trump accountable for the chaos and corruption he has inflamed in American politics. The scope, timing and urgency of these elections all coincide to make this election the most important one American voters have faced in the past 50 years. Residents of Riverside, like every single other eligible voting American, find themselves in the middle of an incredibly high-stakes race where the issues on the ballot, from the senate to the school board, are simply too important for UC Riverside students to sit out.
Every single eligible voter should vote in every single election that they have the ability to, regardless of the perceived stakes, glamour of the candidates, hassle of voting or difficulty of registering. While a number of these commonly cited impediments to voting do require serious solutions, the risks and potential consequences of sitting out an election are greater than any inconvenience the path to voting may pose. The 2018 elections may possibly be the most important elections this country has seen at the federal level in memory. But while the consequences of the election are of paramount significance, the challenge posed by these elections provides valuable insight into why voting is so fundamentally important to the fabric of our country in the first place.
“The composition of the federal government is determined by the entire eligible-to-vote subset of the United States of America’s population of 323 million different people, a brazen and beautiful proposition, upon which the fate of the entire country rests.”
Voters near the UCR area have a say in two races that will select critical voting members of our federal government, in the House of Representatives, where incumbent Mark Takano (D-41) is running against challenger Aja Smith (R), and in the United States Senate, where voters can choose between longtime Democrat incumbent Diane Feinstein or her other Democratic challenger Kevin De Leon. While Takano is expected to defeat Smith in the election, democratic elections are not a binary split that gives all power to the victorious agenda and absolutely none to the losing one. Much of Mark Takano’s mandate fundamentally depends on his margin of victory, as does the degree to which he will vote like a Democrat rather than acting more like a moderate. If Mark Takano wins the district with 90 percent of the votes, he will vote quite differently as opposed to if he won with 70 percent, and much differently than a scenario in which he wins just over 50 percent.
As (hopefully) registered voters in this district, readers will likely have to do some research on the two candidates, but the decision ultimately comes down to a simple question: which candidate do you prefer to see as your representative? After making that decision, it does not matter if that candidate is going to win or not in a general election with two candidates — you are the only one that can represent which of the two candidates is more fit to be your representative. Your vote is the only way you can indicate that relationship, and otherwise, your representative is missing data that is essential to their mission.
The question in the Senate is no different. Feinstein is widely expected to win over De Leon, yet the two candidates espouse different goals, approaches and philosophies — they tell different stories. Feinstein is a hardened Democratic warrior with relationships and experience, De Leon is a savvy, courageous challenger with a compelling story and record. There are clear and important differences between the two candidates; failing to cast a ballot silences you for six years — stifles your influence on the just 100 men and women who determine how much you pay in taxes, the accessibility of your health care, the price of housing, how much you pay for your education or even the future of the planet itself.
Democracy is an experiment of epic scope and scale — one voter ultimately has just as much input as any other (with a few caveats) single voter in the country. The composition of the federal government is determined by the entire eligible-to-vote subset of the United States’ population of 323 million different people, a brazen and beautiful proposition, upon which the fate of the entire country rests.
When one person stays out of the public discourse, that very discourse loses a voice, a perspective, an additional nuance. Instead, those that choose to stay become inflated, and increasingly so with every single voice that is welcomed, but could not be bothered.
“You wouldn’t let your crazy uncle make your most important life decisions, so why would you let them choose your government?”
Voter turnout in the last midterm election, 2014, was an astonishingly low 36.4 percent, the lowest turnout number since 1942, in the midst of the Second World War. For reference, with a number as abysmally low as that, a mere 18.3 percent of the voting age population in the United States could have elected majorities in the House of Representatives.
To make matters even worse, turnout rates are anything but evenly distributed among age groups. The youngest age groups vote the least often, and every age group votes at a rate more frequently than the one below. The effect is so strong that while eligible voters aged between 18 and 27 voted at a rate of 19.9 percent, voters 65 and older voted at a rate of 59.4 percent, nearly triple the rate. It does not take complicated mathematical or reasoning skills to then infer from this, that assuming the size is similar between the two age groups, people aged 65 and older control our government at a level approximately three times as influential and impactful than people aged 18 to 27.
This disparity is striking – no group should have even close to the three times the representation to another of similar size in a democracy. The issue is compounded, and drastically exacerbated, however, by the fundamental fact that younger people will fundamentally have to live much longer with the decisions made by their fellow citizens aged 65 and older. Older populations gravitate toward more traditional political views that aren’t as informed by new developments in the world or are outdated to newer generations that will inherit the country and planet as older generations have chosen to leave it to them.
The failure of young people to vote, while our oldest citizens consistently do, runs directly counter to their interests, ranging from the immediate months after the election to as far as decades in which the legacies or effects of policies will still be reminiscent. It is not inaccurate to say that by not voting, young people are essentially handing over their vote — that is, likely the most powerful tool the average United States citizen has — to senior citizens, thereby allowing them to make some of the most critical decisions that will affect their lives upwards of a century.
Barack and Michelle Obama have been spreading awareness of this voting dynamic in recent months, and to employ the same logic — you wouldn’t let your crazy uncle make your most important life decisions, so why would you let them choose your government?
The more abstract or big picture arguments for voting are incredibly compelling; however, California itself faces an array of difficult questions on the ballot in 2018. Questions that, unequivocally, will determine how much students on this campus will pay for their transportation, their healthcare, their housing, how many homeless will remain on California streets and where the state gets its energy, among numerous others.
“Knowing what is at stake in the 2018 midterm elections is absolutely critical for anyone that wants to know how to effectively plan their own future and vote their interests.”
The chief determinants to the answers of these questions lie in the California ballot propositions, specifically Proposition 6’s proposed repeal of the gas tax increase, Proposition 10’s reopening of localized rent control regulations, Proposition 1’s authorization of bonds for veteran housing assistance and Proposition 3’s issuing of bonds for a number of infrastructural and environmental projects.
Proposition 6 is a profound question that truly has compelling arguments on both sides. The gas tax is important not only to pick up the necessary revenue to fund our infrastructure programs, but also to discourage use of gasoline as much as possible and make cleaner or renewable sources of energy and transportation more attractive. At the same time however, the burden of Proposition 6 is likely to fall largely on lower income individuals and communities, and due to the utter lack of public transportation infrastructure in the state, it’s very possible the tax will collect revenue primarily from lower income individuals without actually changing their behavior. The implications of either side of this dilemma are too important to ignore; whatever side you land on, make sure you vote that way.
Propositions 1 and 2 ($4 and $2 billion) both mandate the issuing of bonds for public housing projects in a state that has too many bonds and too few affordable housing units. If you believe taxpayers should pay a little bit more so that the state can bring down the cost of housing, or find this notion detestable, don’t skip this one either. Proposition 3 is the issuing of a much larger bond ($8.9 million) aimed specifically at issues of water infrastructure in the Imperial Valley, ranging from watershed protection to wastewater treatment and habitat protection. These issues are of tremendous importance to the valley area and would bring serious benefits, yet nearly $9 billion in bonds for a local project is a bit unusual, especially when the changes have been shown as unlikely to improve water or scarcity issues in other parts of the state.
Proposition 10 may end up being the most important for most voters. It would repeal a law that prohibits cities from establishing rent control regulations in apartments built after 1995. The ballot measure would likely do little more than grant cities increased flexibility in formulating solutions to high rents in their own limits, which could mean many more rent controlled apartments for prospective renters that wouldn’t normally be able to afford the prices, but at the same time, would likely decrease returns for landlords and property owners. Additionally, advertising about Proposition 10 on both sides appears to be largely overblown while the core tenet of the Proposition is little more than a technocratic change that grants more flexibility to individual cities. That being said, this subtle change could have a significant impact for renters, meaning no UCR student should leave this ballot blank.
There’s a number of potentially very impactful local candidate races on the ballot as well; gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is promising to run on what he describes as California values, including commitments to “expanding health care for all, closing the pay and defending reproductive rights and protecting immigrant families and defending our sanctuary status,” centering his campaign as an opposition to Donald Trump’s federal government. Newsom’s opponent, John Cox is instead running on a message of change for the solidly blue California, promising a repeal of the gas tax, keeping healthcare solidly privatized and slashing taxes and regulations that he claims contribute to California’s troubling housing shortage. Assemblymember Medina, a UCR alumnus who represents eastern Riverside (D-61), faces a new challenge from Republican Mohammad-Ali Mazarei. Nearby Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, who represents western Riverside and Corona, is in a very difficult spot against challenger Bill Essayli. Additionally, the outcome of that seat could be critical in the balance of Democrats versus Republicans in the state legislature. Essayli has centered his campaign on repealing the gas tax increase, while Cervantes voted for it after receiving assurance of increased infrastructure and transportation funding for her district.
With all things, but regarding elections especially, knowledge is power. Knowing what is at stake in the 2018 midterm elections is absolutely critical for anyone that wants to know how to effectively plan their own future and vote their interests.
If you are registered to vote and are not voting by mail, there is an on campus polling place for casting and dropping off ballots at UCR in Glen Mor J315 on November 6, and you can find other nearby voting locations at https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/polling-place/.
If you are not registered but still are interested in casting a ballot, California offers conditional registration up to and including on election day at special locations. To register after the October 22nd deadline, you can find the Riverside county conditional voter registration office at 2724 Gateway Drive, Riverside, CA 92507-0918.