Why I Vote

 A Functional Democracy Co-Founder Amy Stansbury proudly sports her "I Voted Sticker." 

A Functional Democracy Co-Founder Amy Stansbury proudly sports her "I Voted Sticker." 

Flashback to college. Shitty beer. Greasy pizza. And a lot of caffeine.

I went to Temple University, a large public school in northeast Philadelphia. When I was a sophomore or junior, our state's governor announced plans to cut funding to all of Pennsylvania's major universities, triggering tuition increases for literally hundreds of thousands of students. 

At the time, I was stealing toilet paper from campus in order to save money... so the idea of paying thousands of more dollars for school obviously alarmed me. 

That's why I was happy to hear that my school was organizing a lobby day at our state's capital in Harrisburg. They rented nearly a dozen buses, ordered a bunch of t-shirts, and promised free lunch to any student who would come along and advocate for ourselves and the university to our state leaders. 

That morning I woke up feeling pumped and ready to get sh**t done at the state capital, a feeling that quickly dissipated when I arrived at the meeting spot on campus and discovered that less than 20 students had showed up (out of more than 33,000 students). The university (which was already strapped for cash) had to send away all but one of the buses and was left with hundreds of uneaten boxed lunches. 

In the end, the budget cuts went through and all of our tuition went up. 

Yes, this story is a bummer. Sorry. 

But don't worry, here's where things get good. Because that whole experience changed everything for me. It got me fired up about political participation. It showed me the importance of getting involved in your local and state government institutions. It basically made me a civic nerd overnight. 

Flash forward to today and that passion has never dulled. That's because as a journalist, I've seen this story play out in one form or another dozens of times since college.

While it's true in a democracy that you never get 100 percent of what you want, it's also true that you rarely get anything that you want if you don't show up and participate in the process. 

That's what I'm asking you to do today. Tuesday, March 6th is Election Day in Texas. It's the primaries, which means you'll actually be able to help decide which candidates are on the ballot for the general election in November. 

And since many areas of Texas are dominated by either Republicans or Democrats, primary elections are where many of our future legislators and representatives are ultimately chosen.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. In Texas’ 2014 primary elections, voter turnout for Republicans was 7.18 percent and just under 3 percent for Democrats. Many of these races then went to a runoff, where turnout was just under 4 percent for Republicans and 1.06 percent for Democrats.

Take a moment and think what that means for the rest of us. In the best case scenario, less than 10 percent of our state’s population chooses our two major party candidates. In the worst case (in areas dominated by one party or another), less than 10 percent of our state’s population chooses the actual candidate who will represent the rest of us in elected office.

Resources About What's On The Ballot:

  • For a full list of all the candidates running in all the primary races in Texas, check out this great list from the Texas Tribune>>
  • For a full list of all the candidates running in our local primary races (plus information about them and their policy positions), you can check out the League of Women Voters nonpartisan voters guide, which is available in English and Spanish here>>
  • You can also download The Voting App for more information about Texas primary candidates.
  • And last but not least, you can visit vote411.org for your personalized ballot. Doing this will ensure that you have the opportunity to research all of the candidates running to represent you before stepping into the booth on Election Day.

So how do you vote?

Election Day is on Tuesday, March 6th. In Travis County, you can cast your vote at any polling station. (You don’t have the pick the one closest to your house). More information about polling locations and voter ID requirements are available here>>

In Texas, you do not need to register as a member of any particular party in order to vote in primary election. All you need to do is show up at the polls on Election Day and select which party’s primary you’d like to vote in. The only rule is that you can’t vote in multiple party’s primary elections in the same year. You have to pick one.

PS – Wondering where the Green Party, independent candidates, or Libertarians are? During these primaries, only Democrats and Republicans are on the ballot. (The Green Party for example, selects candidates through a convention process). You’ll hear more about these independent or third party candidates closer to the general election in November.

Want to do even more?

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If you're feeling excited and empowered after voting on Tuesday, I invite you to take things to the next level and learn more about how you can make a difference in our country... right here at the local level. No matter what it is you're passionate about (women's rights, climate change, economic development, gentrification, traffic, affordability, homelessness), you can make a difference here in Austin. 

I truly believe that. And that's not just because I'm an optimist.

As a journalist, I have seen both the good and the bad of our democratic system. Sure, I've seen what happens when no one pays attention to what our elected officials are up to. But I've also seen what happens when thousands people stand up and show up. 

That's why I decided to write "A Beginner's Guide To Local Government: Austin Edition." This activity book walks you through all the basics for getting involved in local government, helping you to figure our who your City Council member is and how to attend your first City Council meeting. 

So what are you waiting for? Get a book today and become a changemaker in your community.  

This is how we create #afunctionaldemocracy.

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Amy Stansbury