Guest Blog! My Tam’s Guide to Citizenship and First Time Voting Pt. 2

Guest Blog! My Tam’s Guide to Citizenship and First Time Voting Pt. 2

This is installment #2 of a new series by My Tam Nguyen, friend of the Bus and all around awesome person. Check our part 1 here.

Read & Research

This next step is perhaps the most crucial in the journey of voting and good citizenship: reading and researching about the issues and the candidates.

Since you heard from me last, I survived Hurricane Sandy and the many trains, planes, and automobiles as a part of a LA-NYC-Boston-Detroit-Seattle extravaganza. I’m also in between deadlines for community and professional commitments, and of course, am completely behind on finding that perfect poem to read during the ceremony at my friend’s destination-wedding next week. I get it, we’re busy.

Young people are caught between our balancing ambition, reality, budgetary and time constraints, being there for our family and friends, answering a deep desire to make a difference in shaping our local and global communities, and seeking strategic ways to get into that not-so-secret Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show. How do we fit voting into this equation?

It’s less than a week until Election Day (Nov. 6), and a second Voters’ Pamphlet greeted me when I opened my neglected mailbox after my week away. They call this one, the King County Local Voters’ Pamphlet, apparently it’s different than the State of Washington Voters’ Pamphlet I’d received the week prior. Most of my more experienced-voter friends have already posted humble-brag Facebook photos of their completed ballot, with snapshots of their choice political candidates and ballot measures. With my trip, and the limited time on my hands with all the things I’m balancing, I’m a bit behind. I also don’t want others’ biases to affect my own voting opinion. Voting is a new freedom of mine, as I’d mentioned extensively in my first post, I don’t want to mess it up by being easily influenced. So where do I find unbiased information?

It’s a much more nuanced and difficult question than I’d imagined. In order to choose my candidates and be informed about these ballot measures, I have very finite options to get objective information, most people merely scoffed and laughed at me when I’d asked for unbiased voters’ resources:

  • Voter’s Pamphlet. The pros: It’s sent to my door, both State and County versions are available online, and has everything covered. The cons: It’s lengthy, and allows candidates, initiatives, and ballot measures to describe things in their own words, how can that possibly be objective?
  • The Municipal League. The pros: objective grading system of everything from candidates to ballot measures, all available online. Full disclaimer: I have multiple friends on their board, and have volunteered with the candidate evaluation process in the past before I became a citizen, so have some vague familiarity and recollection. Cons: It’s yet another set of information I have to sludge through.
  • Blogs and the Media. The pros: Up-to-date coverage with multiple perspectives on multiple platforms that I can read and catch up on my many devices. The cons: As a journalism graduate, I’ve been ingrained with a lot of idealism about objectivity, but we all know that most media outlets have political agendas, and even the most objective ones tend to lean a little to the left or right. Many people pointed me to The Stranger’s Cheat Sheet as a Seattleite and because of my age, though it’s definitely not objective (and, to it’s credit, very openly so). Others mentioned The Atlantic, and Publicola which, while certainly not without biases, strive for a more objective and centrist voice.
  • Other resources: family, friends, mentors, community members, my Facebook and Twitter feed. Pros: I trust, and have real rapport and relationships with them. Cons: They’re human and come with their own set of biases and beliefs, which may nullify the quest of getting objective informants.

So what do I do and whom do I trust for my research and information? My approach is going to be a combination of the aforementioned, browsing through the voters’ pamphlets, checking out what the Muni League has to say, paying attention to what’s trending on major local and national media outlets and blogs, and of course, keeping a close ear on the ground and eye on my feed of what my friends and family are saying.

Next post…Show Up & Question.

Guest Post! My Tam’s Guide to Citizenship and First Time Voting Pt. 1

Guest Post! My Tam’s Guide to Citizenship and First Time Voting Pt. 1

This post was written by My Tam Nguyen, friend of the Bus and all around awesome person:

Are you a good citizen?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for the past three months. I was born in Vietnam, a country not known for its democratic process. The first eight years of my life were spent in a fishing village. I did not grow up with running water, running toilets, or electricity, much less a culture of democracy, voting, or civic engagement. I immigrated to the United States in 1992, and 20 years later, I’m finally a citizen.


Wooooooo!

I currently volunteer in the community and work in community engagement, you’d think that I would know how this political stuff works by now. Somehow my involvement always felt distanced from the foray of power and political play and process. Secretly, I had feared that although I was a green card holder, it could be taken away if I was too politically opinionated or involved. The moment I was sworn in three months ago on July 31, something changed–I gained a sense of duty along with the great privilege of being an American citizen. I am now a voter, can fully participate in the democratic process, and no longer have to operate with the fear of living at the fray.

It is of great relief to gain the freedoms of being an American, and it is also a great obligation to our community and country that I do my due diligence to be an informed voter. I am not taking this responsibility lightly.

This post, will be the beginning of a series on how I navigate this process. I hope that my civic adventures can help shed light on your own experience of voting a complex ballot this year!
My very first voter’s ballot arrived in the mail this week, and I’m a bit overwhelmed on how to approach this thing. I know it’s important, and there is so much in there that is relevant to our generation: legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, how state universities are able to spend their money. Along with the ballot, is a 135-page voter’s pamphlet full of pictures of smiling politicians and text describing how awesome they are and why they should get my vote. Am I really supposed to read this whole thing? OK, I tried. I was supposed to find answers in the pamphlet, and all I have are a bunch of questions:

Is there a CliffsNotes for the voter’s pamphlet? How in the world does someone make time to fully engage and make informed decisions with the mere two-week window between getting the pamphlet and turning in the ballot? Especially in between Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, and not to mention leading an awesome life and finding a way to pay the rent.

I started to ask around, and with some good ‘ole Googling, I present to you three steps I think are my pathway to becoming a well-informed citizen and voter:

1. Read & Research
2. Show Up & Question
3. Decide & Conquer

Next post…Reading and Researching. Stay tuned!

Setting a Higher Bar

Setting a Higher Bar

This November Washington residents will be voting on Initiative 502, an ACLU-sponsored initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in Washington State.

Yesterday, the seldom-progressive Seattle Times endorsed a yes vote on I-502, commemorating Seattle’s long history of allowing Hempfest to operate for 21 years in legal limbo within our public parks.

In their endorsement, the Seattle Times Editorial Board gave a nod to opponents of I-502, who dislike the DUI-style provisions created by the new bill.

But they also fall into the trap of pretending there is not currently a law against driving while under the influence of marijuana.

According to RCW 46.61.502:

“A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state:

And the person has, within two hours after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW46.61.506; or while the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug;

The fact that a person charged with a violation of this section is or has been entitled to use a drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against a charge of violating this section.

There is currently a zero-tolerance rule for driving while under the influence of non-alcoholic drugs. I-502’s “new” DUI threshold would raise the current limit by setting one.

In addition, the new threshold measures a seldom-used test for the active component in marijuana that causes the sensation of being “high”. This is different than the inactive metabolite employers test for that lasts for weeks at a time (and may have cost you a job or two).

This establishes the first legal difference between proof that you are currently high versus proof you attended a Snoop Dog Lion concert two weeks earlier.  There’s no carve-out for the latter under current law, and a judge or jury who sees no legal distinction could choose to convict a person who was completely sober but driving erratically.

Washington State could be the first state to break from Federal Law and legalize marijuana for casual use.  Whether voters think this is a good idea is totally up to them.  But an informed electorate is important, stoned or not.

This blog post was written by Devin Glaser, longtime friend and volunteer of the Bus.

No ID? No Vote, No Voice

No ID? No Vote, No Voice

Twenty percent of 18 to 24-year-olds do not have a government-issued photo ID. In the ten states shown below, those young people without IDs will be unable to vote in November.

States with Voter ID Laws

Obtaining a photo ID is more difficult than you would expect. Offices that issue photo IDs have limited business hours and are often found in rural areas where there is limited public transportation. On top of that, it can cost between $8-$25 to obtain a birth certificate (which is needed to get a photo ID). The Brennan Center for Justice outlines the difficulties of obtaining a photo ID in this comprehensive report.

What’s the reason behind these laws? Proponents argue that voter ID laws help ensure the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. The reality is that voter fraud does not exist. While there are allegations of non-citizens voting in elections or people voting twice using fake names, that is simply not the case. A report by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2007 found that, “it is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Lightning Strikes Vote Fakers Dead

Your ability to vote in elections should not be determined by how much money you have in your pocket or whether you can visit an office to get an ID. Instead, we should encourage voting and make it easier for everyone to participate in elections. The problem is not apathy, it’s access. Laws like the voter ID laws we have seen place an unfair burden on young people.

Who Doesn't Have Government ID

A recent report by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts found that 44 percent of young adults didn’t know if they had to show a government photo ID or a driver’s license to vote. Thankfully, here in Washington State photo ID is not required to vote. But if you’re attending college out of state and are considering voting there, I encourage you to check out this voters’ guide from the Brennan Center for Justice.

This blog post was written by 2012 Fellow Tyler Sadonis.