Some people never miss an opportunity to vote. They have some particular reason that propels them to cast their ballot at every election.
I’m one of those people, and the thing that drives me to the polls every year begins with a story about a young military wife, in the 1960s. For a range of reasons this young woman, an immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s, had never been able to vote. One reason was that in those days you had to be settled in a place at least a year before you could even register. Military families like hers moved a lot, and so the stars didn’t align until 1964.
Finally settled in San Diego, a decidedly Republican town, she registered as a Democrat. On Election Day she put on one of her nicer dresses and made her way to the neighborhood polling place, sample ballot in hand. There, a poll watcher representing the Republican Party challenged her right to vote. She was a first-time voter, and it wasn’t unusual then—and isn’t necessarily unusual today—for poll watchers to challenge first-time voters. It’s a legal way to politely intimidate and narrow the tally during tight elections. Whether it’s right, just, or moral is another question.
The woman, whose husband had just finished serving for 21 years in the U.S. Army, was flustered. She didn’t know what to do. Although she was a U.S. citizen, she was hesitant about challenging authority in her adopted country. She left the polls disappointed. Lyndon Johnson and a few other candidates lost one vote in San Diego that day.
The young woman was my mother. I remember how disappointed she was, how embarrassed she seemed that day. She eventually did get her chance to vote for everything from city councilmembers to presidents. But that first failed effort was the most memorable. So now, when I vote, part of me is voting for her.
The other part is voting for the environment. Everyday my staff and I see the results of elections. We work with the legislators whom Californians send to the Capitol to make a difference. We know firsthand that a candidate who campaigns for protecting the environment is likely to stick to their commitment most of the time. If a candidate didn’t care about the environment during the campaign, it’s going to be harder to get them to care once elected.
That’s why Sierra Club volunteers spend hundreds of hours each election year vetting candidates—newbies and incumbents. They draft questionnaires and hold interviews, and get input from multiple levels of the Club.
For a list of Sierra Club endorsements in the Bay Chapter, click here.
We hope our list is helpful as you consider the June 5 ballot. And if you’ve caught just a drop of the cynicism about government that has struck so many, let me assure you that your vote counts. If you need a reason to vote, do it for the environment. If that isn’t enough, do it for my mom.
Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California