There’s more to pay attention to when voting down the ballot than just the Governor’s race, though that is surely among the most important boxes to check when you step into the booth. Also on many ballots this go round are referenda crucial to the well-being of our communities. On my Durham County ballot I will find four separate issues that deserve my attention and understanding: public schools, community colleges, library facilities, and museum bonds. Other localities have their own pressing matters: the Wake County Transit Plan Referendum, Buncombe County Housing Affordability Bond Referendum, and a series of bond measures before Greensboro voters ranging from parks and recreation to economic development, for example.
Many of us will not be personally affected by the referenda we are asked to consider. For my part, my children are out of school and nearly finished with college. If I were voting purely out of self-interest, these bonds would not get my support. Indeed, the typical political discourse encourages us to think in individualistic ways. Campaigns are generally geared to collective groups of individuals, so we listen to politicians and their promises, asking ourselves, “Will that help me?”. Candidates appeal to our singular concerns and try to tap into an emotional response to those concerns that will win our vote. They usually try to avoid issues that will alienate the largest swaths of society so as to keep us individually among their group of supporters.
The Great Commandment, on the other hand, says: Love God, love your neighbor. When we think about that instruction and then look at our ballot, does anything change for us? What would our completed ballot look like if we considered our votes based on how it would affect our neighbors, using the definition of neighbor that Jesus gives us? For me, this means voting for schools that will help the students who are my neighbors in every part of Durham County, not just next door. It means supporting the public library and the museum because even if I rarely avail myself of their great gifts, I know that others can and will.
Many people have already voted, and for them we give thanks. For those of us holding out for the excitement of Election Day (that’s me), we still have time to consider how the referenda on our ballots will improve the well-being of our neighbors. Supporting our public resources is a simple way to love our neighbors.