When you grow up with a mother who used military service to escape an oppressively small town, you absorb a lot of things about God and country. God will be there to listen to you in hard times, but it’s unlikely that miracles are coming to save you. You have to save yourself. As far as country, you should do your best to make it a better place. For her, saving herself and improving the country meant voting.
My mother always voted—every election, local or presidential. So I’ve tried to vote every election, too. The last time I voted in a general election was the Texas gubernatorial election in 2014. In good conscience I voted for Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte for governor and lieutenant, respectively, because I knew they were fighting to restore rights in Texas that decades of racism masquerading as conservatism had repealed. I knew I made the right choice, even if only about 39% of voters agreed—although the number of left-leaning voters in the Texas continues to grow.
Nowadays, I live in New York City, and for the first time, I will cast my ballot in a dark-blue state. New York always goes for the Democrat, even if some of the politicians at the top of the city’s and state’s politics skew right. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, is pretty damn economically conservative.) New York can be tight with its cash, but it’s safe to assume certain rights remain safe: access to safe and legal abortion and no capital punishment, for example.
I feel guilty for leaving places where those things aren’t a given. Especially in an election year.
In Nebraska, where I lived for 15 years, the death penalty is back on the ballot. After four decades, the nonpartisan legislature voted to repeal capital punishment in May 2015. (Perhaps you remember State Sen. Ernie Chambers, the king of litigation and great t-shirts?) Gov. Pete Ricketts then vetoed the nonpartisan body’s decision, which led the state legislature to override his veto. Now, Ricketts and his billionaire father have spent $400,000 on their effort to put the death penalty back on the ballot, and if they get their way, back into the state statutes. The last time Nebraska executed someone was 1997, but Ricketts still thinks this is a worthy cause of the Cornhuskers State.
Then there’s Arizona. After 23 years in office, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the officer who founded the draconian prison Tent City (literal tents baking in the Arizona desert) and racially profiled Latinos, may finally be dethroned. He’s been trailing his Democratic challenger by nearly 15 points. It only took the filing of federal contempt charges. Arizona is the place that gave me a birth certificate and my degrees, and is the home of some my favorite people—most of whom are Latinx. I want politics, lawmakers, and law enforcement that respect their right to live.
And of course, I cannot forget Texas. As we contemplate the possibility of the Lone Star State turning blue in a presidential election, conservative lawmakers are asking the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic gay marriage ruling. They seem to believe marriage equality wasn't “so ordered.” It seems like there are places my ballot could be much more effective. I know it sounds hyperbolic, but Texas women are dying, special education programs are being slashed, and abortion clinics still aren’t being re-opened, despite the Supreme Court victory over HB2.
But the Texas Tribune has been tracking early voting since it opened on Oct. 24, and the numbers warm my cold dead heart. According to the Tribune’s tracker, more than 2 million Texans voted in-person in 10 counties with the biggest voting age population. In my home county of Dallas, 370,881 people have already voted—compared to 291,004 in 2012 and 316,217 in 2008. We won’t know the contents of their ballots until next week, but I feel surprisingly hopeful as Latinx voter turnout is on the rise in places like Florida.
Don’t get me wrong, I know my vote counts in New York state. There are judges, prosecutors, and assembly persons to elect. Albany is notoriously conservative for such a solidly blue state, and no matter how liberal New York City is, it’s often at the mercy of the state legislature. And yes, it’s refreshing to live in a place that mostly aligns with your values. It’s a comfort to know I can receive the spectrum of reproductive healthcare without threat. But I worry that the issues that are important to me already have the majority they need here, while politics elsewhere feel urgent and pressing.
I'm jealous of the voters who will be a part of realizing the decades-long work of activists in Arizona and Texas to turn the state toward a more progressive vision. Voter registration, protests, and the work of progressive activists has not been fruitless; a Texas Tribune poll found that Trump only led Texas by three points, and Real Clear Politics found Trump’s overall hold on the state has been narrowed to seven points. A part of moving away is realizing you are leaving behind a life that could be better if you stayed and worked and voted for that. Even though this election is about so much more than just breaking through the glass ceiling, that might be the only issue to which my vote will contribute. But there’s always the mayoral race of 2017 and the gubernatorial race in 2018.
Caitlin is the associate features editor at Fusion. Prior to Fusion, she worked on features and national affairs at Talking Points Memo and completed an investigative fellowship at The Seattle Times. Will listen to any and all Grey's Anatomy theories.