Voting: Do No Harm

Woo! Rah Rah Rah!

Are you so excited because you get to vote and tomorrow is election day? I feel a steady rising power as I fill in my mail-in ballot bubbles here in Oregon. I remember a similar feeling when I served on a 3-day jury years ago. An actual faith in the process of this country.  


Don’t get me wrong, the system is all kinds of messed up, but when I buckle down and take my citizen responsibilities seriously, I feel like I have a place.  


Seriously, the jury I was on was such a motley crew. There would be no other time that I would come together with such a mix of people and have to actually hash out the details and our opinions about someone else’s life…and mostly come to an agreement. It wasn’t easy but it was empowering. I savor the moments where I feel proud to be American. Sadly,  feel disappointed by that fact a lot of the time. Voting gives me hope.  


When thinking about voting, I’m reminded of the very first yogic ethical principle, which is mirrored in most spiritual practices everywhere: do no harm, ahimsa. Voting is an opportunity we are given to make choices that do no harm. At least as best we can.  

I used to suck

When I was younger I used to just vote straight party lines and then make a guess on all the other stuff. I’d go with names that sounded familiar (Eek! Bad familiar or good familiar?) I don’t know why this didn’t strike me as irresponsible then, but some years later I got a sinking feeling when I received my ballot. Like…how am I actually supposed to know what the right choice is here? How can I KNOW?!?  

I had to harken back to my school years, when I was regularly asked to answer questions I didn’t know the answer to right away. What did I do? I opened my textbook, I read my notes, I talked to classmates and went to office hours. I tried my hardest to figure out the answer and write something that made a little sense.  

Voting is homework, man.  

Voting is homework

This was a really illuminating moment for me. Yes! I get it! I understand homework, I know how to do it. I don’t want to do it. I’ll definitely procrastinate it. But I do know how to struggle through this dumb (not dumb) adult responsibility.  

Soooooo…if you’re a little petulant like I am when it comes to doing your citizenly duty, I get it. And if doing no harm, or as little harm as possible, is important to you, you know what you have to do.  

How to do voting homework for brats like me

1. Eliminate the ghouls

You’ve got to look up those random people on your ballot and find out if they’re a ghoul or not. This is my husband’s actual tactic and I’ve adopted it from him, because it’s pretty obvious when a candidate is an idiot, which makes for easy elimination.  

2. Eliminate the lazy

Unless their rival is the aforementioned ghoul, I also typically eliminate someone If they haven’t taken the time to fill out the questionnaire in your voting pamphlet (accessible on Ballotpedia, a data aggregator that pulls together candidate-published and other relevant information so you can see what’s up with your exact ballot, including ballot measures.)  

3. Review your favorite news sources’ endorsements

Having figured out the easy no’s, I look up the local, independent news sources I generally like and see if they’ve made endorsements, and I read those articles. The papers often weigh in on ballot measures, too.  

4. Talk to your peeps

It’s also super energizing to talk to my local friends about how they’re thinking of voting, and ask them why. I feel very mature when I do this. Ask my mom, I’ve always wanted to be mature. To this day, with all my gray hairs, I still get a rush when I feel like I’m a grown up.

Talking to people, I see there are 500 more possible implications I hadn’t considered, and I’m liable to get confused. Then I come back to ahimsa, do no harm. With the incomplete information I have, which little bubble choice do I think will do the least amount of harm? 

5. Drop off your ballot, click your heels in the air

Dropping off my ballot after all this homework feels like it did in school. The relief of finishing the assignment and, whether or not I aced it, knowing I did my best and it’s done. Except voting is a little more important than my mediocre essay on the financial crisis of 2008. That paper got *me* credit. Voting gets *us* involved in our country. It’s just the beginning. 


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