Voting & Polling in Harrisonburg

Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.
Putting up a Gary Johnson sign last night.

At about 1 PM, I visited my polling place, Keister Elementary, to cast my ballot in the 2016 election.  The drive leading up to the school was blanketed with signs for the various candidates.  Outside of the building, there were people handing out both Republican and Democratic sample ballots.  The fact that the Republicans openly encouraged voters to cast their ballots for Independent City Council candidate George Hirschmann seemed to further prove that he is not, in fact, an independent, but rather a Republican who is trying to obscure his party status.  In addition, a woman stood outside conducting an exit poll, which I thought was quite exciting!  More on this issue in a moment.

I expected that there would be quite a long line inside, but was surprised that I only had to wait for a minute or two.  Apparently, traffic had been particularly heavy earlier and many people had already voted, but I just happened to be there during a lull.

Voting was actually fairly difficult this year.  I knew my vote for president, of course, but hadn’t decided upon the names for my write-ins for various offices where I either didn’t know or care much for the candidates listed.

Anyway, when I got back outside, the pollster asked for whom I cast my ballot for president and whether I had voted in the 2012 presidential election.  I told her that I voted for the same candidate in 2016 that I did in 2012.  I then asked if she could tell me the results of her poll thus far.  Although I expect that Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg, given that Keister is one of the most Republican precincts in the city I assumed that Donald Trump would be winning the exit poll or that it would be very close.  However, that was not the case.  Of the multitude of respondents, about 60% said they voted for Clinton, 30% were for Trump, and Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Evan McMullin, and write-ins split the remaining approximate 10%.  Yes, in this exit poll Clinton had about twice the votes that Trump had.  The pollster theorized that perhaps Trump voters were far less likely to admit that they cast their ballots for Trump, but I thought this unlikely.  What it told me is that if these numbers hold, Hillary Clinton will win Harrisonburg by a far larger margin than I anticipated and will likely perform even better in Virginia than what people say.  If she wins Virginia by a sizable factor, then it might end up being a very quick election night reminiscent of 1996 when Bill Clinton bested Bob Dole.

Yes, Keister is only one of many polling places in Harrisonburg, but the exit poll doesn’t seem to bode well for Mr. Trump and the Republicans.  It will be fun to discover if this poll is accurate or not!

The Worst Election

Image from ifunny.co
Image from ifunny.co

Tomorrow, millions of Americans will go to the polls and cast their votes for electors for president.   Although I started following politics in 1994, volunteered on my first campaign in 1995, and cast my first vote for president in 2000, this election has been, without a doubt, the worst election I’ve ever seen.

There are several reasons that 2016 has been particularly terrible.  First is the candidates themselves.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are some of the most reviled people in American politics.  Whether it’s due to perceptions of corruption and dishonesty, or claims of racism and sexism, the average American has a negative perception of both.  Most Republicans who once condemned Trump and Democrats who declared Clinton unacceptable during their respective party primaries, in a display of blatant hypocrisy, have since come out in favor of their candidates.  It is amazing to me that some people can give all sorts of reasons why a candidate is abysmal and should not be elected, but then completely ignore these glaring flaws simply due to their attachment to party labels.

Now, we do have third party choices too; in Virginia, we have five candidates on the ballot.  Besides Trump and Clinton, we also have Johnson (Libertarian), Stein (Green), and McMullin (Independent).  However, none of these candidates have been particularly outstanding, nor have they run particularly competent campaigns, nor have they made much of an effort to make either a long or short-term effect on politics in this state.  But, even if this weren’t the case, the media and the political system itself has done a pretty good job marginalizing third party candidates, framing the election as a choice between the lesser of two evils, and, there is little doubt in my mind that both the Republican and Democratic choices are indeed evil and thus unsupportable.

However, what I would say is the absolute worst aspect of this election has been the nastiness exhibited by average Americans.  Yes, we all have differing political opinions, but rather than expressing these views with civility and respecting opposing viewpoints, many have resorted to personal attacks and name-calling.  As one metric, in every election cycle, I have lost several Facebook friends.  However, in the last several months of this election, I have either been defriended or have defriended by at last a dozen folks.  The majority have been Republicans and/or Trump supporters, though to be fair, I know far more Republicans than Democrats.  While some have quietly defriended me because of my steadfast belief that Donald Trump is unfit for office or due to my inclination to cast my vote for Gary Johnson, others have been unbelievably nasty.  Yes, some say things like I am throwing my vote away, but others have told me that Donald Trump is owed my vote and if I vote for any other candidate I must be: an idiot, moron, stupid, a fool, ignorant, a traitor, or even suffering from a mental disorder.  Besides the name calling, they say that this election is simply too important and thus I must surrender my political free will by helping elect an evil person in order to prevent someone who is even worse from winning.  Although I’d like to think that my friends could show at least a modest amount of  respect, this election has brought out the worst in some people.  There are both good and bad people supporting Clinton & Trump as well as sound and poor reasons to cast a vote for them and the same can be said of the various third party candidates.

Last week, I met my pastor at a local cafe, mainly to discuss politics and, at the end of our talk, she asked if I would give the opening prayer at church the Sunday before the election.  I agreed to do so and, after thinking about these recent experiences, offered something similar to what is below.

Dear God,

First, let me thank you for those who came out to hear your word this morning at Court Square Theater. Yes, some days it is difficult to come, maybe because the message is tough, or we’d rather watch football in London, or maybe it’s just that our beds are simply too darn comfy.

With the advent of next election in just a few short days, we have struggled mightily as a people. We have been divided into camps and told that we must hate those who hold opinions different than our own. Whether we consider ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans, or Libertarians or Greens, independents or something else, are we not all made in your image? Is it your plan for us to make our friends and family enemies due to mere political disagreements? So many pundits and politicians have been goading us into fear, urging us to make choices based on which person or persons we detest the least. Where once there was reasoned political dialogue, as we get closer and closer to Tuesday, civility has all but disappeared and has been replaced with naming calling and insults. The temptation to lash out in the same way others treat us is strong, but we ask that you would imbue us with the strength not to fall into this trap. Remind us that we are your people and you call us to be better than this world.

We pray for our pastor, our theologian in resident, our worship team, and each and every person here today, and those who are unable to join us. May you watch over us, guide us in your wisdom, and correct us when we stray. Please direct our nation and our leaders, no matter which candidate emerges the winner in Tuesday’s election and may we be mindful and courteous to everyone even when some people attempt to divide us over our skin colour, sex, national origin, and yes, even political affiliation.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, we ask these things.

Amen

As I told the JMU student that I am tutoring, Election Day to me is like Christmas is to most people.  However, this year I am relatively certain that I don’t want most of the gifts the American people will be unwrapping tomorrow but unfortunately we can’t return them.  My great hope is that no matter how things turn out, Tuesday will be the end of the awful 2016 elections, citizens will accept the results, we can put this particularly nasty season behind us, our overblown fears will subside, and we can work for greater civility and support candidates that actually share our values, as opposed to relying on party labels and this whole lesser of two evils nonsense.

No Faith & No Freedom

faith-freedom-logoEarlier this month, the nonprofit group Faith & Freedom Coalition released their voter guides for the 2016 election.  On their website, they offer free “nonpartisan”  information.  Simply click on the link for your state, and presumably, you receive information tailor-made for your ballot.  Interested to see what they had to say, I decided to check it out.  For Virginia, they listed Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as well as their stances of a variety of issues.  However, here in Virginia, five candidates qualified to make the ballot for president.  In case you didn’t know, the other candidates are Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Evan McMullin (Independent), and Jill Stein (Green).  Would the Faith & Freedom Coalition really leave out over half the candidates?

I decided to try another state.  After all, only three candidates appear on every state’s presidential ballots, but some states feature candidates that others do not.  The results were the same.  They only included information for Clinton and Trump.  I tried another and another and another.  Each time, the voter guide for the next state was the same as the one which preceded it.  Why would the Faith & Freedom Coalition exclude a majority of the candidates?  Wouldn’t doing so intentionally cause them to be guilty of a sin of omission?  Check it out for yourself.

14642453_10154023403516705_7858503810550547758_nGiving them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t actually do their research about who was actually on the ballot in each state, I left a message for them on their Facebook page alerting them of their error.  When I went today to check if they responded, I discovered that they had deleted my comment and banned me from posting any further messages.  This response is particularly amusing and hypocritical, especially given that before posting their voter guide they put up the image you see to your right.

Unfortunately, as I’ve written in a previously piece entitled “The Fall of the Religious Right“, I am coming to the opinion that the Faith & Freedom Coalition may very well be one of these sham faith groups, claiming to be nonbiased and nonpartisan, but serving as a shill for the Republican Party to herd unwary Christians into supporting the GOP and their candidates even when these candidates, like Donald Trump, have held contrary opinions on almost every major issue, including abortion, and subscribe to a personal morality far removed from traditional Christianity.  After the tape of Donald Trump’s bragging of supposedly committing sexual assault emerged, Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, became one of Trump’s most ardent defenders.

Given this effort by the Faith & Freedom Coalition to misled people into believing they only have two choices, I would strongly recommend that my friends and local church congregations not distribute these deceptive “voter guides”.  How is a group who engages in this sort of activity any different from the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates?  Perhaps, if the Faith & Freedom Coalition were a little more honest about their efforts, they should call themselves the No Faith & No Freedom Coalition for it seems that with this voter guide they have no faith in the American people to make the right decision if properly and honestly presented with all of their options and that they have no desire to expand political freedom beyond the two choices that a growing number of American Christians find equally unacceptable.