Civic Moving Hacks

 

So, your boxes are unpacked and you’ve made your requisite trips to Target, IKEA, the hardware store, etc. You’ve scoped out the nearby take-out restaurants, the closest pharmacy, and public transportation options. You even set up mail forwarding (or purposely didn’t set up mail forwarding, to throw off all the mass-mail marketing companies).

Congrats! Now that your move is over, you can forget about the horror of squeezing a couch in a small stairwell, and focus on a great adventure ahead.

Wherever you now reside, it’s time to join your new community.

I’ve put together a Simply Civics guide for community essentials, because like you, I hope to survive September 1st, and like you, I’m excited to see what’s going on around me ASAP. Now is the time to flex your civic muscles.  Even if you’re not moving, now is a great time to focus on your community.

Without further ado…

Joining a Community: The Moving Edition

  1. Visit your Town Hall. Say hey! Get comfortable so that when you have to pick up an absentee ballot or talk to the Community Planning Office, you know where to go. Check out the Town’s website to see what kind of meetings take place and where. Is there a big meeting room that you might go to for a local hearing? Does your School Committee or School Department have its own office? Where’s the Clerk’s Office located?
  2. While you’re at the Clerk’s Office, change your voter registration address. Do it now so you won’t have to scramble before the elections.
  3. Get a library card. Local libraries often assume to role of a community’s center. With a library card, you can check out books, but you can also use computers, take out e-books, reserve rooms, (in Brookline) check out library pans, reserve museum passes, attend classes, and conduct research. To get a library card, you will probably need a state-issued ID card, an identifying piece of mail, or a bank statement.
  4. Meet your neighbors. First, say hey to them outside or in your building, introduce yourself, and say which unit or building you’re in. Then, join NextDoor, a social media platform for your neighborhood. People post when they are trying to give something away, or looking for recommendations, or looking to hire a babysitter or pet sitter. It’s a great resource. To learn more about its many advantages, check out my post about NextDoor.
  5. Donate your duplicate furniture, appliances, clothes, etc., to a nearby organization where it can be put to better use. One excellent option is NuDay Syria. They have a number of drop-off locations listed on their website. See if any places of worship in your area are collecting household items/clothes/food for underserved families You could also consider posting on NextDoor to give away items to a neighbor.
  6. Subscribe to local news. Does your town or city have one or two major newspapers? Brookline has the TAB and Patch. Both are great and free. You’ll need to know what’s going on around you — upcoming initiatives, new shops and restaurants, winter weather how-to’s — and you might as well tune in now. Local news covers a lot of ground and is a great way to learn about your community.
  7. Mark your Calendar with Community-Wide Events. If you live or work in Brookline, mark your calendar now for Brookline Day. It’s on September 24 and it’s fun for all ages. I’ve been looking forward to it since last year’s Brookline Day. Your town might have holiday festivals, farmer’s markets, or even a Harvest Festival. Any Parks and Rec fans out theres?Pawnee Harvest Festival
  8. Get to know your public officials. This is a lot easier than it may seem. They’ll be listed on your town or city site. Many of them also have campaign websites, even outside of campaign season, so you can look up their priorities that way. While you’re doing this, pull up a map of your city or town to see if you’re in a specific precinct. You’ll need to know this come election time, but it’s great to know beforehand, too. Here’s Brookline’s precinct map. I’ll be changing precincts so I’ll have new Town Meeting Members.
  9. Follow your community on Twitter and other social media. I love this step. There are some public officials who post frequently and are very involved in town activities. Don’t be shy. They want you to follow them. Search for Twitter accounts for the library, schools, farmers markets, newspapers, art centers, transportation office, political organizations, the chamber of commerce, neighborhood services, etc. Some are better than others, but you can always unsubscribe at any time.
  10. Learn about Civic Organizations. There are so many out there, depending on your interests and availability. Talk to people to see what’s worthwhile and what would be up your alley. If you don’t have time to join one now, think about following their work and supporting them in your own way. Here are some ideas.

League of Women Voters. Talk to me if you’re interested in joining! Men are welcome, too!

Neighborhood Associations. Brookline has the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance and has specific neighborhood associations within it.

Town/City Political Parties. Political Parties always want more volunteers!

Town/City Working Groups and Committees. Brookline posts their openings here. Volunteering for a local board or committee is a fantastic way to serve your community.

School PTAs. I can’t really speak to this but if you have school-aged kids, you may think about this as a means to get to know other parents and get involved in the school.

Local Clubs. You’d be surprised what you can find with a quick Google search.

 

The Place to Start

Just like the process of moving, when it comes to joining a community, you can’t do it all at once. But there are some things you can do easily right off the bat.

Honestly, the list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a great starting point. Once you get the basics, you’ll be a community member in no time. Remember, there’s more to civic engagement than voting. At it’s core, civic engagement is about being active in civic life, and there are so many ways to do it. Find the ones that work best for you, and see where it takes you!

Since I’m a big fan of Chance the Rapper and I’ve had his version of the Arthur theme song (“Wonderful Everyday“) stuck in my head for days, I’m going to send you off with some words of wisdom from a good ol’ children’s show (random, but bear with me):

Everyday when you’re walking down the street, everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view
And I say HEY! hey! what a wonderful kind of day! 
Where you can learn to work and play
And get along with each other

You got to listen to your heart
Listen to the beat
Listen to the rhythm, the rhythm of the street
Open up your eyes, open up your ears
Get together and make things better by working together
It’s a simple message and it comes from the heart
Believe in yourself (echo: believe in yourself)
Well that’s the place to start (to start)

One last thing. If you Tweet a picture at @simplycivics of you doing any of these things in the next month, and tag #simplycivics, maybe I’ll write a blog post about you!

Happy Moving!

Simply Civics Ballot

What You Might Not Know About Ballots

I was eating dinner with my parents and one of my sisters, Alley, a couple weeks ago. Not surprisingly, our conversation shifted to the upcoming election.

My mom asked me about what determines ballot order. I didn’t have a clue.

Are candidates listed alphabetically, by candidate name or party? Is it random? What impact, if any, does the ballot order have on the election outcome?

Embrace your Individuality

As it turns out, it actually varies a lot state by state. In my Political Science classes at Boston College, I learned that in our system of federalism, oftentimes we see a plurality of policies at the state level. States get creative in how they approach various policy issues, such as school systems, tax structures, etc. On Election Day, too, states like to show off their own individuality.

Since the federal government doesn’t dictate how states organize election ballots, we see a plurality of ballot laws across the country. The University of Virginia Center for Politics released a super handy list in 2009. It’s fascinating to see the states’ different approaches to handling ballot order.

Lotteries & Incumbent Advantage

A lot of states seem to place value on the outcomes of previous elections. In Massachusetts, the incumbent is listed first, followed by the other candidates in alphabetical order by last name. Some states, like Connecticut, base the order on previous election results. For example, if the Democrats won the previous election, their candidate will appear first. Interesting, right? So in both Massachusetts and Connecticut, whichever party had the most success in the previous election will appear first.  The underdog is indeed the underdog.

Some states take a similar approach, with their own variations. For example, in Wisconsin, the party that won the most votes in the previous gubernatorial election will be listed first. Whereas, in West Virginia, the party that won the most votes in the last presidential election will be listed first.

In Maryland, the party with the most registered voters is listed first.

Some states leave it up to the official printing the ballots (Illinois) or the State Election Commission (South Carolina) to decide.

Still other states, like Virginia and Washington, have lotteries to determine party order. This sounds both exciting and stressful.

Unclear Bias

Thanks to Political Science academics, there are a ton of studies out there about ballot order.

As it turns out, the candidates listed first may have an advantage. Surprise, surprise! Larry Sabato, the Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, calls this phenomenon the “first-listing bias.” Voters who are still on the fence might pick the candidate listed first. However, he says the bias produces fewer additional votes for offices at the top of the ballot, such as president or governor, than towards the bottom. The more highly visible the office, the less likely the order of the candidates matters. For more of Larry Sabato’s insights, check out his article, Who’s on First.

Things Aren’t Random

Academics have brainstormed solutions to this dilemma, too. In First Among Equals, Yuval Salant, assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School and Marc Meredith, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania propose one solution. If we could somehow randomize ballots, we might be able to improve the fairness of elections. For example, on Election Day, I might see one candidate listed first, and you might see the other candidate listed first. That could be cool….but extremely costly. Towns, cities, and states already spend a ton on each election, without randomizing ballots. Would the benefits outweigh the costs? It seems like for now, officials have decided it doesn’t.

When The Ballot’s In Your Hands

So, the jury is still out on ballot order. There is some evidence to suggest that ballot order matters. Each state has used its own approach to remedy the issue, but no state is perfect.

As always, the best solution is voter education. Make sure you do some research on the candidates before you get to the polls. That way, you’ll vote for the candidate you most identify with, regardless of where they appear on the ballot.