Community Voices / ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’

Voters queue up to deposit their ballots in a dropbox in Bellingham for the 2020 general election. Washington counties were given the option of conducting elections entirely by mail in reforms enacted in April 2015. (Amy Nelson photo © 2020)

The views expressed in the essays, analyses and opinions as Community Voices are those of the authors exclusively and not those of Salish Current

By Allison Aurand and Michael Jay, Co-Presidents, The League of Women Voters of Bellingham / Whatcom County

— Quoting the U.S. Constitution and other foundational documents is in vogue during these polarized times, but the intent of those words is timeless and deserves consideration beyond service as a soundbite. 

The League of Women Voters [League] is a nonpartisan political organization with the primary goal of defending democracy. We do so by registering and educating voters so they can better express themselves at the ballot box, in political discourse, and at home and in the community. 

Being nonpartisan has always been a bit challenging as League members are certainly not without personal opinions and beliefs. However, those in leadership roles in the League choose to set aside their biases in service of defending the processes that comprise the very foundation of our democracy.

Being nonpartisan has become increasingly difficult over the past decade (or longer) as issues have been claimed by one political faction or another and thus labeled as partisan. Consider for a moment your gut reaction to someone flying an American flag. Or, to someone with a Black Lives Matter bumper sticker. With the acceleration of the news cycle and social media’s “minimal bytes” approach to everything, thoughtful consideration and conversation about issues has been reduced to icons symbolizing one’s political affiliation.

It is in this atmosphere that we entered the 2020 General Election, only to run headlong into the process of election administration. For the majority of Americans, the 2020 election has forced us to remember (or learn for the first time) that elections are not about instant gratification, memes, signs or event attendance. Instead, elections are about voters, issues and the ongoing effort to “get it right” by local and state elections officials and workers. 

We face many challenges in the election process, ranging from the long lines we see at polling places across the country, arguments over voting machines and the barriers people all over the nation still confront when they go to the ballot box. And, we cannot get instant results, particularly in this time of unusual division in our country. 

However, while we as citizens may chafe at what seems like an inordinately slow process, this waiting period offers an opportunity to reflect on the brilliance of our elections system. 

Voting in this country is a decentralized affair, administered by people in our counties and states who are dedicated to counting every vote rather than a single entity at the federal level. Voting and the subsequent tabulation is overseen by members of both political parties and nonpartisan observers. It is a human process, with occasional human errors, but it affirms that every vote has value and can be tracked and accounted for. 

In a national vote, the potential for a broad, quiet conspiracy to throw an election is an impossibility — far too many people would have to be involved. Indeed, that holds true in elections for statewide office or even local office, as results are reported county-by-county and precinct-by-precinct. 

In short, while we have some distance to go in improve how we vote and in guaranteeing the right to vote, we have fair and transparent elections because of the dedicated work of American citizens.

Our founders did their best to capture their vision within the documents that framed the basis for establishing the United States. The League was formed with the voters and their rights and responsibilities in mind. As we work to register and educate voters, develop and host meaningful candidate forums, and research and advocate for issues of significance in our community and beyond, the League holds the following principles to be fundamental to the healthy functioning of our democracy:

  • Voting is essential our success as a nation. Voting rights continue to evolve, and every citizen should have a voice in our government through the power of the vote. We as a nation and community have the continued responsibility to fulfill the founders’ intent to make a participatory democracy possible.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address captured the intent of our founders to create a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We must treat every new and re-elected official as a new hire. Their job security should lie in their ability to represent those who elected them. Their leadership should reflect the will of the people and not those with deep pockets and special interests.
  • “All people are created equal” and should be treated as such. We are largely a country of immigrants. This country thrives on the intelligence, innovation and work ethic that immigrants have always brought to their new country — but most of all, we thrive on their passion and inspiration to pursue the American dream. We are the land of opportunity. This is what drives our economy and our progress, and what brings us all together in common cause. Very few of us are ‘of here’ but all of us are essential to make our country grow and our democracy work.

These truths and many others are core values of our representative democracy. Each of us needs to understand their implications and recognize that the measure of our success lies in our ability to improve conditions for all of us. 

Democracy is an active process that takes its strength from our involvement. Participate in political discussions. Respect those around you. Look for ways you can reconcile differences. Vote.

If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.