My Vote. My Voice.

Welcome to the Contra Costa Lawyer Magazine’s Election & Politics edition. While looking back at the 2008 Elections edition and President Robin Pearson’s article on our country’s history of close Presidential Elections, I was reminded again that the primary way we participate in our democracy is to vote. Moving to the 2012 Election & Politics edition, Guest-Editor Stephen Steinberg recounted his experience as a high school senior after a failed bond measure that would have constructed new school facilities. Nobody understood the need for new school facilities better than the students. The measure missed passing by seven or eight votes. One of his school’s civic teachers surveyed her students and found eight students who were already 18 and would have voted for the bond measure had they known about it. They hadn’t voted. Lesson learned —not voting is a vote.

Directly out of law school, I had the privilege of clerking for the Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew of the Central District of California, the son of Chinese immigrants who came to Los Angeles in the 1920s. One of my favorite memories was watching Judge Lew administer the oath of citizenship to hundreds of families at the court’s Naturalization Swearing in Ceremony, where this one moment changed lives for generations. For many, their first act of citizenship was registering to vote and they completed it before leaving to celebrate. In the last six years, close to 4.3 million naturalization tests have been given with 91% of the test takers passing the first time.

Admittedly, before this experience I was not familiar with our Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

These words felt especially poignant, during the smaller citizenship ceremonies Judge Lew held in the courtroom for our Armed Forces, usually six to eight military servicemembers, dressed in uniform, who were becoming citizens prior to their overseas deployment. It was humbling to witness the raised hands of these men and women, who had already volunteered to place themselves in harm’s way to serve and defend our country and its ideals without having the benefits and privileges of citizenship that I have enjoyed since birth.

Under special provisions in Section 329 of the INA, President Bush signed an executive order on July 3, 2002, authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. This order also covers veterans of certain designated past wars and conflicts. This authorization remains in effect. Since Oct. 1, 2001, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized 109,321 members of the military, with 11,069 of those service members becoming citizens while serving abroad.

I hear the twittering refrain that voting doesn’t matter or that a vote doesn’t count. And while that debate may rage on, the arguments fail to reach the heart of why I vote. I vote because I am the great-great granddaughter of a woman who fought for my right as a woman to vote and for the right of my daughter. I exercise my right to vote as an act that honors the brave men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces and the families who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the act of preserving, protecting, and defending the freedoms I enjoy. I vote because our democracy depends on our individual participation. For me, voting is the embodiment of our “out of many, one” motto. One vote may not be decisive but when our many voices speak in local, state, and national elections, we decide our path together, collectively as one. I feel most connected to what I sense it means to be an American when I vote.

And I take my daughter to vote with me. After voting in this year’s primary, I posted the following: “We raise voters by being voters. Please vote and take your kids with you. Talk about who and what you’re voting for and why. And please, profusely thank the volunteers, who make the process work. I am grateful that even with hotly contested elections, I walk safely into a school gymnasium and vote with my child in hand.”

Learning to voteEach time I vote with her, we talk about the importance of having a say in who runs our government and who makes the laws governing our lives. We talk about how voting is sacred, private, and cherished – it is not to be wasted. Before we arrive, we’ve discussed who I’m voting for and why, but as we huddle together in the voting booth, I still read aloud the position and each name listed on the ballot before we color in the bubble for my vote. When we leave, we thank the poll workers again for their service. I am grateful.

In this edition, you will find several articles reflecting a variety of perspectives on the upcoming election. You will also find articles discussing voting procedures and the pathways that impact ballot initiatives. Finally, if you’re feeling the call to serve as an elected official, you’ll find an article to help get you started and encouraging you to run.

Most of all, in this 2016 Elections & Politics edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer Magazine, we hope you find inspiration to vote.


Wendy McGuire Coats is Appellate Counsel at Fisher & Phillips LLP in San Francisco, where she leads the firm’s California Appellate Practice. She serves on the ABA’s Council of Appellate Lawyers’s publications committee, the California Women Lawyers amicus committee, and the Contra Costa County Bar Association Board of Directors.

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