I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
In educating myself about the local leaders and various propositions to be voted on last Tuesday, I came across what seemed both odd and comical.
Reading through one section of a voting guide related to my town, I found myself pleased by several of the charter amendments under consideration.
Among eight proposals was one to “prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation” and another to “provide gender neutral wording.” Both passed.
Then came the proposition that caused my laughter. “Shall the City of Pflugerville amend its Charter to correct spelling and grammatical errors?”
I wondered why a vote of the town’s residents was necessary to make such changes, since it seems there ought to be language included in every piece of legislation that allows for such revisions without a vote.
Nevertheless, directly following two substantive proposals related to social justice and LGBTQ+ rights was a request for permission from the town’s residents to make grammatical and spelling revisions.
Apart from the oddity of needing to vote for this to happen, I wondered how anyone could actually read the proposition and decide to vote “no.” “Who’s going to vote against something like that?” I asked myself.
On Wednesday morning, I found out. Nearly 900 people, just shy of 15% of all votes cast on this proposition, did so.
Taking the time to learn about a proposed change to a law or governing document, and to educate yourself about a candidate’s platform and policy positions, is vital to a functioning democracy.
This involves finding non-partisan voter guides that provide arguments for and against proposed legislation, and information about each candidate, as well as reading the perspective from people or organizations who support and oppose the measures and candidates.
In the case of governing document changes, this process helps you understand what the particular wording of a proposed law would actually do. Often such measures are phrased in a way that, if not outright misleading, rarely convey the true intent and impact.
For example, the following was among the Texas constitutional amendments on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”
There was an even shorter phrasing on the screen when I cast my ballot – something along the lines of, “Prohibit limitations on religious services.”
This seems benign – and perhaps even a further protection of religious liberty – on the surface. Who would want to prohibit religious services, after all?
In truth, this proposal was (and is) a misguided effort by some Texas lawmakers to designate religious gatherings as “essential services” in response to in-person religious gatherings being among the activities temporarily restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is religious freedom vital? Absolutely. Does this proposition expand religious liberty? Absolutely not.
Rather, it places the selfish interests of faith communities who want to meet in person without any limitations or restrictions even when it is unsafe to do so above the common good.
Apparently, the Texas legislators pushing for this change would prefer to allow houses of faith the opportunity to endanger the larger community by spreading a virulent disease.
Religious freedom is essential, but, like any freedom, it is not limitless. When it comes to public health, the adage, “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose,” applies.
This proposition – which passed with 62% approval – will hinder future efforts to promote the common good by limiting the scope of public health measures designed to mitigate the spread of disease.
It signals that a strong majority of voters in Texas would rather have their faith community be known for selfishness rather than love.
This is yet another example of a flawed and dangerous view of freedom, defined as the limitless right to do whatever an individual or group deems appropriate.
This not only conflicts with the view of freedom set forth in most sacred texts – in which the impact of our actions on neighbors should always factor in – but also will endanger others the next time a public health crisis emerges.
I hope that this time next year more people in my town and state, and across our country, will better educate themselves about what they’re voting to support or oppose.
We’ll obviously come to different conclusions, but at least we’ll all have a firm, and factual, grasp of what we’re voting for or against.
Perhaps those nearly 900 people in my town had a legitimate argument for opposing something so mundane that it seems silly to me that a vote was required.
My guess is that they didn’t. And I would bet that many who voted for the religious services proposition didn’t truly understand the nuances of the issue either.
These examples illustrate a larger danger to a properly functioning democracy – uninformed citizens whose voting pattern seem to mimic an unprepared student who randomly selects answers on a multiple-choice test rather than one who has studied sufficiently to make informed choices.
We should always promote greater participation in our local, state and national elections – and make it as easy as possible to do so.
Yet, such encouragement should be accompanied by a sober reminder that democracy can only function well when voters take the time to educate themselves about who and what they choose to support.