Bending the Arc Toward Better Elections

When I mention to people that before entering the ministry I spent 25 years in newspaper journalism, they often ask what I miss from that former life. The truth is: not much. At about the time I was leaving for ministry, the newspaper world was changing dramatically. Newspapers were shrinking, the demands on reporters were exploding, and compensation was falling. There is still good work to do in journalism, but it’s a rougher go these days than it was.

Still, there is one recurring moment when, even now, 15 years after leaving the field, I feel the old tug of newspaper life. And that’s on Election Day. It was always an electric moment. As reporters, we were among the first to get the election returns, and the adrenaline was pumping as we called in to the candidates for their responses and then banged out our stories as fast as we could for a deadline that was always NOW.

I had those same feelings watching the returns from the Iowa caucuses the other night. I sympathized with the beleaguered newsfolk, who I’m sure were tearing their hair out as the caucus machinery fell apart and they were left with nothing to report. But it also reminded me that for the quirks, faults and frustrations with our electoral system, it is in the end a marvel of sorts.

That for over 200 years we have managed to maintain a system that at least in concept and over the years increasing in fact assures every citizen a say in their government is kind of amazing. Yes, there have been setbacks: the Supreme Court has hobbled the franchise through the Citizens United decision, which put moneyed interests in the driver’s seat in campaigns in an unprecedented way, and by shrinking the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, once again endangering representation of minority voices. But the bones of a good system are in place and are waiting to be built on.

This is all a way of calling attention to the importance of the UU the Vote campaign that our congregation has joined in. Our country may be consumed in partisanship these days, but UU the Vote goes deeper. It takes us to the heart of trying to make our democracy truly representational. Look at the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall and you’ll find many things that we can all do to help assure that every person, especially people in marginalized communities, have a voice in our elections.

We can’t know how this work will impact the ultimate results in the election, but we can help bend the arc of justice toward a fairer and more equitable system of government.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead  Minister