Voting in a party primary is not the same as voting in a general election. Though the history of primary voting isn’t glorious or the kind of thing that makes people excited about politics, it’s necessary. Yes, our choices are restricted by the realities of the system. Yes, we may not always be voting for the greater of two goods, we may be voting for the lesser of two (or three) evils. Sometimes, we may not have a choice at all.
To those who may seek not to vote, I want to say that’s alright. Abstaining from voting can be speech all in itself. And I recognize the difficulty that some will have finding the time to make it to the polling place, go to work, cook dinner, take care of the kids, and all the other things that must come first. But far too often, there will be those who think along the lines of Willie Stark in the 2006 film version of All the King’s Men, “If you don’t vote, you don’t matter.”
I am not here to tell you how I am voting. In the Democratic gubernatorial race, we have three candidates each with their own unique capabilities and each with their own deep flaws. I have my own fears about this primary and election season, namely that we are about to enter the defeat of even lip service to the liberalism and progressivism of the Democratic Party in Rhode Island. I hope to be surprised.
I don’t have names for you. You have to choose the names for yourself, and there are no easy answers in the voting booth. But I do want to talk to you about what drives you in the voting booth.
A party primary is vote for who should lead the party in the general election. Who should stand as its standard-bearer, best represent its ideals. There’s been a lot of talk about what the ideals of Rhode Island’s political parties are. I think it’s been misguided. The ideals of the party whose primary you’re voting in are your ideals. Your ideals are what led you to choose the party in the first place. Remember what “ideal” even means, anyway. It’s voting for the best. That’s how you should vote, for the best you can.
This will mean hard choices. Some of you may think you’ve got it figured it out, who you’ll vote for and why they’re great. And I envy your certainty. But I can only say don’t depend on any politician to make change alone, no matter how wonderful they may be.
And as citizens, this doesn’t end our work. The whole of our political activity is not limited merely to casting a ballot and then retreating to our homes. Your voice is needed in the State House, your voice is needed online and in the street. If you don’t speak up, you don’t matter.