Drink ’n’ Vote: The Civic Sensation Sweeping the Nation
My Official Voter Information Guide for the 2018 midterm election came in the mail this week — nearly 100 pages of candidate statements, endorsements, and arguments for and against measures.
More annoyingly, the television ads have started. They can be summed up as follows:
- EVERYTHING IS GARBAGE AND IT’S GAVIN NEWSOM’S FAULT SOMEHOW
- THE GOVERNMENT GONNA TELL YOU WHAT TO DO WITH YER HOUSE
- YOU WILL BE MURDERED IN YOUR BED WHILE YOUR CHILDREN WATCH IF YOU DON’T VOTE YES
Unfortunately, I have to sit through these ads to watch another episode of Futurama on Hulu.
Although the conversation around elections usually focuses on the highest office on the ballot, there’s usually a whole lot of other choices to be made. For example, in recent years I’ve voted on plastic bag bans, community college board representatives, and whether rain water collected by wineries should be tax exempt. I am not an expert on any of these topics, but my vote will still help determine what is done.
In the past, my strategy for voting on these lesser-known offices and measures has been to hunker down for several hours and research each part of the ballot. I use resources like Ballotpedia, check candidates’ websites for their platform, and read endorsements from a variety of newspapers. It’s a long, difficult process to get to the bottom of what my vote would actually mean in each situation. And every time I sit there, poring over interviews and statements, I think of all the people who don’t do this before voting.
Because it’s hard enough for me to make time for this, and I don’t have kids demanding my attention. It’s hard enough to find truthful, useful information and I have reliable internet access. And it’s hard enough to glean what the platitudes and misdirections really mean, and I have a degree in literature. Voting is a big responsibility, and although it’s vital to get people to show up, it’s also important for us to make informed decisions.
But in recent years, some friends of mine have come up with a strategy to make researching your ballot a little bit easier and a little bit more fun. That is why today I’m asking you to say “yes” to Drink ’n’ Vote.
A New Tradition of Civic Engagement
No, Drink ’n’ Vote does not mean getting drunk and marking your ballot at random. Nor is it about using drinking as a misguided coping mechanism against political despair. Drink ’n’ Vote is about working together to be better voters.
The origins of Drink ’n’ Vote began at a San Diego engineering firm, where my friend Stacy used to work. They had a monthly event called Lunch and Learn, where employees would bring their lunch into a meeting room and eat while one of their colleagues gave a short presentation on a topic of their choosing. Like a TED Talk, but with more PB & Js.
Now, as we were in our early twenties at the time and Stacy lived in the designated neighborhood party house, she and her roommate Ally created their own adaptation of the event. Thus Drink ’n’ Learn was born.
The main difference of course was that Drink ’n’ Learn was BYOB instead of BYOL. Because we’re not assholes, it was also perfectly cool to not drink. Because we live in San Diego, it often ended up as BYO-Burrito from the local taco shop.
Each month, one person would prepare a presentation on a topic in which they had a special interest or expertise. We learned about sharks, pop music, comic books, forensic blood spatter*, and more. The living room audience was engaged (if sometimes a little loud) and usually had some good questions and some bad jokes.
*It’s because of Drink ’n’ Learn that I know “spatter” is the correct term, as opposed to “splatter.”
This went on for several months, until November rolled around and Stacy and Ally had an idea. Since we all wanted to be informed voters who understood who and what we were supporting, and since the research can take so much time and be so confusing, why not band together to learn about our ballot?
How to Drink ’n’ Vote
Drink ’n’ Vote is essentially a study group to learn about your ballot. With beers.* Each person picks one or two parts of the ballot (elected offices or propositions/measures), and are responsible for researching them in depth.
*Beer is absolutely not necessary for an event like this. Have a Brunch ’n’ Vote, have Lemonades for Legislation. Hold a Political Potluck. The point is to get together and share knowledge so that you and your friends can make informed decisions. Don’t pressure anyone to drink, and if someone chooses not to, leave it at that.
The amount of time spent on each piece of the ballot depends on how many things there are to cover and how many participants we have, but as a general rule, you should be able to give a presentation on a ballot initiative in about five minutes.
Some key questions for propositions and measures are:
- What (in plain English*) will this ballot initiative do if passed?
- What are the benefits and what are the costs or drawbacks?
- Who supports the initiative and why?
- Who opposes it and why?
*Or whatever language your group best communicates in.
For elected offices, some key questions are:
- What does this elected position actually do?
- What are the candidates’ experience or backgrounds in this field?
- What are the major candidates’ top priorities or campaign promises?
- Who supports each major candidate and why?
After going through the basics about a race or measure, the audience can ask questions. Although the intent is always to provide a reasonable picture of all candidates and sides, the presenter can end by saying how they plan to vote. This brings us to the prickly part of having an event like this.
Information, Not Persuasion
The purpose of Drink ’n’ Vote is to get past apocalyptic political TV ads and voting on your gut feeling (a lot of people have very stupid guts). And that means really engaging with candidates or measures you don’t support.* Needless to say, this is easier with some measures and candidates than others.
*But Nazis are always bad. Always. Just in case this is somehow — for some stupid reason — in question. For God’s sake, if someone defends Nazis or white supremacists of any kind, just call it a loss and get better friends.
For example, Proposition 7 on the California ballot is about whether our state legislature may, with a two-thirds majority, change daylight saving time. I don’t think things will get too heated here. If you end up yelling at someone about this, please give yourself a timeout.
On the other hand, California will also be voting for Governor and Attorney General, among other offices. These elected officials will have a huge impact on the running of our state and their policies will affect us all personally. If nothing else, participants of Drink ’n’ Vote should aim to answer the above questions as accurately as possible. Sometimes, presenters will show bias, but the hope is that everyone walks away knowing more about obscure measures and offices than they did before.
Like all of American politics, Drink ’n’ Vote is imperfect. Even if the intent is to spread the burden of research, it still requires time and effort. None of us are impartial. But we must take whatever imperfect steps we can to make wise and just decisions.