Dancing, forceful chants, and a plethora of honking cars marked the morning of Saturday, Nov. 7 as Seattleites on Capitol Hill celebrated the start of a new American era following the announcement of a Biden victory and the election of the first Woman of Color as vice president. The monumental day was also an occasion for continued protests for BLM marchers across town. The day’s combination of revelry and activism took a dark turn in the evening, however, with a fatal shooting in the early hours on Sunday.
“They forgot where they live. We never forget where we live.”
It was November 9, 2016, the day after the last presidential election, and I was on the phone with my mom. I’d been telling her about how everyone in Seattle seemed to be in a state of shock. Everywhere I looked, people were in tears or stunned into silence — they just hadn’t seen it coming. They’d never honestly considered the possibility that Trump would become president. They were completely unprepared, and I was completely baffled. So I called my mom, the wisest person I know, and asked how these election results could possibly be such a surprise? A crushing disappointment, sure, but a surprise? And then she reminded me of a truth I’d been taking for granted: Some people get to forget how cruel this country can be, but Black people never can. We can’t afford to forget.
Nationally, Tuesday’s election pretty much went as polls suggested they would. With Democrats and Republicans highly motivated to vote this year, 2018’s midterms have shattered all kinds of national election turnout records for a non-presidential year. In Washington State, however, the 1970 record, which topped a whopping 70 percent, remains unchallenged. But with that enthusiasm, far more people than usual voted early: Almost half of the state’s 4.3 million registered voters had their ballots counted with the state’s first release of election totals on Tuesday night. That will likely be at least two-thirds of the final total of voters. That means that candidates with a significant first-night lead in key races will be difficult to overcome as more ballots are counted.
In the August 2014 primary, roughly 29% of registered voters in our legislative district actually voted. It troubles me that a majority of people — especially registered voters — apparently have no motivation to vote.
As an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree tribe of Rocky Boy, Montana, I’m only the second generation with the right to vote. In 1924, Native peoples were granted citizenship, but in many states — including Washington — keeping Native people from voting persisted. Barriers to voting included: culture tests, unreachable polling places, and registrars unwilling to accept voter registration of Native peoples. In our state, the phrase “Indians not taxed,” in Article 1 of the Constitution, justified the exclusion of Native peoples from voting until the Supreme Court ruled that all Native people could vote, in 1948.
When we don’t appreciate the power of our vote, the history of voting, and the impact voting has on real people and neighbors in our community, only 29% of us turn out to vote.
Motivations for voting can be as simple as it’s a basic right or our civic duty, but voting also affirms our own humanity. My motivations for voting are to acknowledge the long struggle those before me endured to achieve the right to vote.
The internment of nearly 150,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry stripped thousands of U.S. citizens of their civil and voting rights until 1946. The women’s suffrage movement began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and took nearly 70 years to secure the right to vote, nationally. Black men, granted suffrage after Congress passed the fifteenth amendment in 1869, were limited by Jim Crow laws until President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law. That legislation broke barriers to political participation for all people of color. These examples illustrate the many ways some people derive motivation to vote as a recognition of history; where we’ve been and how far we’ve come to participate in our democracy.
While voting’s impact may not be immediately obvious, voting now for a community that supports the opportunity and potential of all, acknowledges our interconnectedness. A local election — with gun responsibility initiatives, universal pre-k propositions and local candidates — has profound, tangible impacts at a level that we can all feel.
This fall, Seattle voters can vote between two pre-K propositions. We heard from both prop 1A and prop 1B at a recent Capitol Hill Community Council meeting. The data behind early learning suggests that quality early learning programs lower rates of involvement in juvenile crime and contribute to higher test scores and graduation rates.
Voting — from the motivation behind it, the way it connects us to our past and future, and its impact on our neighbors, friends, family, and ourselves — meaningfully nurtures our community. If we want policies of opportunity for our community and the leaders who can make them happen, we must cast our votes for the future we want to create and commit to investing in a neighborhood, a city, and a community we can be proud of for the next 5, 25, or 40 years.
While you consider the issues and candidates on this year’s ballot, I invite you to recall the first time you were curious about voting. Pondering this year’s ballot, I remember a cool evening during my childhood, when squeezed tightly into the flimsy voting booth, my mom closed the shabby blue curtain behind my sister and me and punched holes into her paper ballot. She glanced over at me – my eyes full of intrigue – and asked, “You want to give it a try?” I’ve given it a try ever since, hoping my vote will make a lasting difference.
Zachery Pullin is the Vice President of the Capitol Hill Community Council
Amplifying the Authentic Narratives of South Seattle