Is it my place to vote in this new adoptive country? Does it make any sense to vote at all? Why is it so very important?
Yes. The more people vote, the more democratic the process gets. If there are only a few voters, it is eternally easier to win. If voters are not involved, we will see a rise in the number of unopposed candidates in the primaries and in the general election as well. Those people, once elected, will do exactly what they want -- not what you and I may want. You should consider not only making it routine to vote, but you should also consider running for office if you are a citizen. If you are unsure about how to choose from the ballot, I advise to follow the money from your tax bill to where it goes and how is it spent.
Are these elected officials going to govern or rule?
These elected officials will govern when they are held accountable. When voters not only vote them into office but also when they vote them out of office if they are unhappy with them. Your government should be open. Every time you don't understand some of their decisions, you have to ask for an explanation. If they will not answer, you can file for the data yourself based on a FOIL or FOIA request. If the FOIA request is denied, they should state the reason for the denial (and it can be appealed). This 'testing' is good guidance for you in your next decision-making in the next election cycle.
Is there even any difference between these parties?
To many of us, there seems to be very little difference between the two major parties in this country. There are more parties than the two; nevertheless, they all seem to bicker and have their special interest groups to pull them in ways that the electorate has trouble understanding. However, they are all elected -- so if you are unhappy or happy with what they are doing on your behalf, election day is the best time to vote them out or in. The biggest impact on your life is not only the result of the presidential election, but also of elections to Congress and most of all of local and state elections. Remember that you are a part of the biggest and the strongest special interest group in this country -- the electorate.
What are the implications for my local politics?
This is where the parties stop making sense all together. Here in the US, citizens have the great advantage to be able to mix and choose directly from the ballot -- you do not have to vote a straight "party ticket." I strongly encourage you to become familiar with your local, county and state candidates. They have a direct and rather immediate impact on our daily lives: how roads are fixed, how town codes are upheld. They decide what our property, school and state taxes are, and they are the ones who decide -- on your behalf -- how the criminal justice system works and how public services -- and they make the hiring decisions for everyone who works in those departments who are, by the way, also being paid from our taxes.
Why does my immigrant vote of a new citizen matter so much?
There is a very special issue that matters to all of us immigrants: immigration reform. Do you remember the awkward process of your immigration? The bizarre hoops you had to go through? The mountain of forms and fees you had to deal with? If this issue is not brought up by immigrants while we still remember this obscure process, it will newer change for the better. Most of us happily forget all about it when we get our green card or eventually become a citizen -- and are only reminded of it if we need to sponsor a relative or a spouse from abroad. By that time, the process will get even more cumbersome and much more weird. Believe me that I know what I am talking about: I immigrated here twice during 17 years and it did get dramatically worse.
The election cycle is a unique chance to do something about this: ask your representatives to change it, make the process better, easier and cheaper. Vote based on their response.
Yes, the initial process is a terrible experience all the way to your port of arrival, through to that last entry bit at the border and, if you travel abroad with a "green card," every consequent re-entry. We are treated like a big group of suspects. This is unacceptable.
Let me remind you who decides how that is done. It is Congress who regulates the immigration laws of this country that are signed into law by the president and upheld by the Department of Homeland Security. All of these are funded from your taxes.
When Congress decides to cut spending on Homeland Security yet again in their next appropriations bill, it will delay all of the legal immigration processes even further. Natural-born citizens do not realize often how endless the process of legal immigration can be and how very bureaucratic and inefficient it is until they are faced with it themselves. We immigrants and our relatives and the few enlightened people who know about it must absolutely champion this issue by questioning all our candidates in the election about their approaches and ideas related to this process. We must vote based on their answers. It will never change for the better if we will not do that. We can be a strong voting block, but we are dispersed and marginalized and, as we become assimilated, nobody raises this issue again. This is an issue that is unique to us and just on account of this one issue it is worth to take the effort to vote. If you went all the way though this process and achieved the ultimate goal of an immigrant -- citizenship -- and with it the right to vote -- please use it!
Finally, one last remark: local politics spill into the state and nationwide politics as parties change or as new people are occasionally voted into (or out of) office. Democracy can be an excruciatingly slow process. Your most local elected official can eventually end up in national politics -- in Congress -- or lower, in county or state politics. Become familiar with these people so you can make educated decisions about them come election time. We immigrants are often asked to assimilate and vanish into the nothingness of our little provincial corner of this country. Often when we open our mouths, someone will remind us that our accent is something strange. OK, so I learned to live with the concept that I am the "different" one here and the accent makes half the people around me assume that I am stupid and have to be told everything twice in plain English and in a much louder voice. But I can tell you one thing for sure: once I am a citizen, they'll never be able stop me from voting. Go vote!
(c) dusan palka 2016