Blog: Making the Best of a Dispiriting Election

Pam Linn

Efforts to ignore the pending presidential election have failed. I just realized, if I’m ever to address this issue, the time is now or it’s missed. In recent days, I’ve become immersed in statewide initiatives that are fraught with conflict or just plain poorly written. Didn’t we pass a law against ballot propositions with names that mean the opposite of what the average voter would think?

Fortunately, there are only four initiatives on the ballot here in Montana. But the voter information pamphlet put out by the office of secretary of state runs to 58 pages of the most turgid prose ever.

I thought I might learn more at our weekly meeting devoted to timely topics, but apparently, the participants were as confused as I was. One initiative, patterned after California’s Marsy’s Law, addresses rights of crime victims but requires a constitutional amendment. The Montana Constitution was rewritten in 1972 and already contains protections for crime victims, although they aren’t reliably enforced.

Another seems to repeal regulations enacted by the state legislature several years ago meant to reduce abuses to the Medical Marijuana Act of 2004 passed by 62 percent of voters. SB 423, however, was so restrictive that many patients lost their safe and legal access to the substance. At 15 pages, not including the pros and cons, I found it daunting, but will probably vote for it because almost anything has to be better than the existing law, which is undeniably a mess.

Initiative No. 181 would create, at taxpayers’ expense, the Montana Biomedical Research Authority, again a redundancy fraught with complications and cost to taxpayers. 

Finally, Initiative No. 177 would outlaw trapping on public lands, which puts children and pets in danger. Current law allows leg-hold traps 50 feet from trails and 30 feet from roads and on river and creek banks. I-177 allows limited trapping to protect livestock and property and for health and safety. I rarely vote with animal rights activists but in this case I might.

Meanwhile, the current edition of Scientific American Mind devotes a page to “How to Be A Better Voter.” It calls to memory the presidential election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, reminding us that divisiveness and bombastic attacks have always been a part of these races.

In order to cast your votes well, the article advises us to take a deep breath, clear our heads and learn more about the facts. Don’t just go with your gut. We should form our political beliefs on information and learning, not on the basis of quick thinking, anger or bias. Strong emotion can interfere with our ability to think critically.

Secondly, it advises not to get all our news from social media. In an attempt not to get angry, we tend to unfriend those who disagree with us. “If no one challenges you, there’s no opportunity to rethink or ask important questions,” warns Leslie Shore, a communications expert who teaches effective listening at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

Try broadening your news sources by tuning to channels or sites, papers or magazines that have a different slant than you do. 

We’re challenged to watch the next debate with our eyes closed to avoid gender assumptions. Well, it’s too late for that one.

We’re admonished to know when to abstain and to ground our choices in facts and information. Political science studies have found that a majority of Americans are ignorant of basic political knowledge, trends in crime or unemployment or whether the economy is doing well or not. All we have to do to understand this is to listen to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Fact checkers at Politifact have marveled at his complete disregard for truth, labeling at least one of his assertions as “Pants on Fire.”

So how do we know if our country can withstand a dreadfully disgusting man as the leader of the free world? Voters aren’t very excited by the alternative, even the ones we might think of as actively backing the first woman candidate.

Warmth and trustworthiness may be desirable qualities, but a candidate who may lack them is still safer than one who mongers fear and hate, degrades women and immigrants, and seems to have no regard for facts.

There’s still time to brush up on the records of those who have been in office and on the behavior of those new to public service. I would ask everyone to vote; but maybe not if you haven’t time to know what’s up. Perhaps those folks might be better off abstaining.