Voting sucks. Off-year voting sucks the worst. Like Valentine's, Election Day 2014 seems less a heartfelt chance to express preferences than a mandate to give one's limited purchasing options a whiff of will and legitimacy. You can be forgiven for apathy. But you still must make some choices. Here's some info to help.
Voter guides usually start out with the biggest national and state races first. This is dumb. The decisions that potentially make the greatest immediate impact on your life are not those beauty pageants, but the weird constitutional addenda and proposed laws on your ballot. Here is a smattering of the notables:
Abortion: Conservatives still looking to be masters of the uterus are trying out dumb measures in three states. Colorado and North Dakota may give fertilized eggs "personhood" rights, which presumably means they can marry as long as they're not gay. Tennesseans can pass a law declaring "that nothing in the Tennessee Constitution 'secures or protects a right to abortion,'" because if there's anything a constitution needs, it's more amendments explicitly denying rights to citizens.
Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish: Mississippians have the opportunity to affirm in the state constitution a fundamental right to hunt and fish for every citizen. The "proactive" measure is intended by proponents to prevent any hypothetical future legal constraints on those activities. If passed, expect a renaissance in straw-man hunts and fishing tournaments for elusive red herrings.
Gambling: Through "Amendment Q," South Dakota voters will decide whether or not to expand table gambling in the town of Deadwood, because in South Dakota it's always 1887 and if hold-'em don't bring in the pigeons from out East, maybe some of them European games of chance will.
Guns: Washington State voters appear likely to approve background checks on purchasers of guns at gun shows and in private person-to-person sales, a minimally invasive measure that's been a nonstarter nationally. But things get weird: A second gun lobby-backed ballot measure, which prevents the state from performing any background checks that are more extensive than the federal government's, may also pass. If the two contradictory proposals pass, the state Supreme Court likely gets to pick a winner. All so Bocephus can sell off an extra shitty Taurus pistol to John Middle Name Here Smith at the big town expo to fund his campsite at the next Coeur d'Alene Angry White Guy Jamboree.
Income Tax: Georgians are widely expected to pass a Republican-sponsored constitutional amendment capping the state income tax at 6 percent, "seen by many as a first step toward reducing the rate and perhaps one day zeroing it out altogether." Considering that half the state's operating revenue comes from income tax, the measure could eventually finish what General Sherman started.
Minimum Wage: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voters can all increase those states' minimum wages above the federally required and wholly inadequate $7.25 an hour. In each state (and in the nation's capital), a conservative Legislature has prevented any minimum wage increase. Proponents say the increase would help working people survive. Opponents are evil fuckers who vomit platitudes about there being no free lunches.
Marijuana: Alaska and Oregon voters can legalize recreational marijuana, D.C. voters can legalize possession*, and Florida voters can approve medical marijuana, though that measure's chances took a hit after its sponsor showed up to a youth rally eight kinds of fucked up. ("If you motherfuckers don't get out and vote, fuck it all, we can't win," the millionaire attorney slurs, drink in hand.)
Sharia: Alabamians are considering an amendment that would ban any application of foreign law in state courts. It's aimed at preventing Islamic Sharia jurisprudence from sullying the integrity of a state that's got its hands full combating Obama's "war on whites." Even the head of the state's Christian Coalition opposes the measure, saying it's a lazy plot to enable lawmakers to say they did something half-assed for Christians. "Sharia law is not going to be implemented in Alabama, it just isn't," he says. Of course, that's what ISIS wants Alabamians to think.
State of California
A couple of new governors will be anointed. A few more will hang on to their seats. They're all terrible.
California: 2014's Jerry Brown is not 1992's Jerry Brown. That sucks, truly. But 2014 Jerry Brown is still a sight better than GOP nominee Neel Kashkari, who hardly resembles a Republican, except for his creepy-ass look and the fact that he can explain junk securities but probably won't, not to a poor, anyway. Also: Jerry Brown dated Linda Ronstadt.
Florida: You can choose Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent turned Democrat who was an okay governor for a Republican, or you can choose Rick Scott, a reptilian dirtbag CEO who's literally too stupid to be good at crime or politicking, but still manages to be breathtakingly corrupt in his drunken weave through Tallahassee. Scott's most endearing personal story is about the time he decided to leave the Navy and go into business after selling cans of Pepsi for a sickening markup to his fellow shipboard sailors. Good news: Scott may lose. Bad news: It would take three generations of enlightened governance by a Disney-built animatronic Clinton-Reagan-Roosevelt-Buzz Lightyear hybrid to undo the damage Scott did in a single term.
Georgia: Nathan "Arizona" Deal, who never met an immigrant he didn't loathe, and who occasionally mistakes college students for undocumented immigrants, is in a tight race for reelection against Jason Carter, grandson of some paranoid old Paula Deen-loving peanut farmer. Some parts of Atlanta are nice, I guess.
Kansas: Former senator and current Gov. Sam Brownback tried an uber-conservative experiment in privatizing and tax-cutting and fucked it all up. Or rather, he did it perfectly, and it turned out conservative governance fucks things all up. Anyway, he'll have plenty of time to pray on it in forced retirement next year.
Massachusetts: In 2010, Martha Coakley was handed the deceased Ted Kennedy's safe Senate seat and promptly lost it faster than a dry-cleaning ticket. Her reward was this opportunity to lose a safe governor's seat.
New York: Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout was a will-o'-the-wisp in strict electoral terms. But she did accomplish one amazing thing, which was to unite lefty Brooklynites and gun-clutching upstaters in their hatred of once-and-future Gov. Andy Cuomo, who makes Eliot "Fucking Steamroller" Spitzer look like a damned agreeable fellow.
Pennsylvania: Tom Corbett, the incumbent Republican governor, is likely to lose by double-digits to a dull businessman named Tom Wolf. This is mystifying, because Corbett's not even on the top five list of worst Republican governors, most of whom will probably stay in office. But Corbett did bungle the Penn State child rape thing, so yeah, screw him.
South Carolina: Nikki Haley, Republican, is this backwater shithole's first female Indian-American governor. She's also the first female Indian-American governor to publicly defend the Confederate battle flag. She will also become the first female Indian-American governor to defend the Confederate flag and win reelection, because South Carolina is such a backwater shithole.
Texas: Greg Abbott is a cookie-cutter conservative who loves the Ten Commandments. Wendy Davis is a Democrat who courageously stood around a lot once. She won't be governor, especially not after clumsily reminding everybody that Abbott is a paraplegic. These boring suits make even the funkiest of Austinites remember Rick Perry somewhat wistfully.
Wisconsin: Scott Walker. And his lazy eye. Just. Never. Fucking. Lose.
Control of the Senate will probably change hands from Democrat to Republican. What does that mean? Beside more gifs of Mitch McConnell as a turtle and fewer 2016 political direct-mail ads raising the specter of "LIBERAL HARRY REID," not much.
Alaska: Republicans are eager to flip this seat, where Democratic incumbent Mark Begich has proven insufficiently boring to stave off challenger Dan Sullivan, who also is pretty boring for a retired Marine. He is not to be confused with the other Republican Alaska politician named Dan Sullivan, who wants to invade a wildlife refuge with guns to get the oil there.
Arkansas: Ever heard of Mark Pryor? Don't bother now. Your new senator is a weirdo arch-conservative named Tom Cotton who believes that "groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who... could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas."
Colorado: I don't know anything about Cory Gardner, the Republican hopeful, except that he played high school football and thinks embryos are people, too. I don't know anything about Sen. Mark Udall, either, except that he's related to a Mormon mass-murderer and "fucking abortion is all he talks about." Peyton's having a nice year, though.
Georgia: You can have Michelle Nunn, the Democratic daughter of an ex-senator, or you can have David Perdue, the Republican cousin of an ex-governor. After Perdue stepped down as CEO of some shitty dollar store, a group of female managers banded together to sue the chain for pay discrimination. But Perdue says it's no biggie; "it was less than 2,000 people" who sued. Maybe he loses Tuesday. Maybe by 2,000 votes. Maybe less.
Iowa: Joni Ernst is a hog-nutting conspiracy theorist and leather gal who believes the U.N. is trying to communistically overthrow Jesus and the corn and soy farmers He so loves. But can you even name the Democrat she's running against? Not even Michelle Obama can.
Kentucky: Mitch McConnell is having a tougher time battling Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes than he did with those cockfighting lobbyists in the GOP primary. This is an actual state in the union.
Kansas: Weirdly, GOP incumbent Pat Roberts is not well-liked by voters, even though he knows some nice Indian doctors, has this hot fantasy about playing hoops with President Obama, and is admirably honest about not living in the state that elected him to the Senate. In his place, you can have Greg Orman, an milllionaire independent "entrepreneur" and Perot voter who may or may not caucus with Democrats. Or strychnine. Have you considered strychnine?
Louisiana: White Republican men have demanded apologies from embattled Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu after she suggested last weekend that Barack Obama's and her policies were a hard sell in the Deep South in part because of old racial and sexual animus. Her Republican opponent snarled that "we're not racist, we just all have common sense." White Southern rage against a white Southern lady for saying white Southerners aren't always fair to blacks is the most white Southern thing ever. Unrelatedly, a third of Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for Katrina.
New Hampshire: New England, stop trying to make "Senator Scott Brown" happen. It's not going to happen.
North Carolina: Kay Hagan is a Democratic senator in the state that gave us Jesse Helms. She will be an ex-senator, if Republican challenger Thom Tillis can fix enough voting machines and the Koch brothers can keep running these dumb pro-weed ads on Hulu.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
No suspense here: The Republicans are going to keep control of the lower chamber, though they've set an ambitious (and meaningless) target of 245 seats, which requires them to gain 11 from the Dems. Nobody cares. Congress will be useless no matter what. Here are some simply amazing people who may contribute to that uselessness, however.
Michael Grimm: Let's play word association: If I say "dirtbag under federal indictment for mail fraud, tax fraud, and wire fraud who also threatened to 'break' a reporter 'in half... like a boy' and maybe throw him off a balcony on live TV," what's the first thing that pops into your mind? It's "lying retired FBI agent and two-term Republican congressman from Staten Island who'll probably breeze to election," right? Uncanny.
Charlie Rangel: Forty-three. That's how many years he's been in Congress, after beating civil rights icon Adam Clayton Powell in a Democratic primary. Eleven. That's how many times he's been found guilty of violating ethics rules. By his peers. In the United States House of Representatives. This dude's money is dirtier than the toilet scene in Slumdog Millionaire.
Scott Desjarlais: Hey, remember in 2012 when we all laughed at this freshman tea party congressman from East Tennessee for being virulently anti-abortion and then getting caught on tape pressing his mistress to get an abortion? Oh, he got reelected. Still super hardcore pro-life. Also, his wife got two abortions before they divorced. Also, he's gonna get reelected again.
Edwin Edwards: He is 87. He was the Democratic governor of Louisiana on three different occasions, including the time in 1991 he barely edged neo-Nazi David Duke for the post. You want to root for the guy with the alliterative name who beat the racist, right? Which is why he's running for Congress now, after an eight-year stretch in federal prison for 17 counts of bribery, extortion and corruption. He took millions for prison contracts, casino licenses, and more. And polls show that if he ran for governor now, he'd face-smash Bobby Jindal.
Mia Love: An eccentric "part-time fitness instructor and former flight attendant" who became the first African-American mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, the conservative Love tried to topple Utah's only remaining Democratic congressman in 2012 and failed. She's back at it in 2014, planning to take the Congressional Black Caucus "apart from the inside." A purported "anchor baby," Love likes to tell how her Haitian immigrant dad dropped her off at college and told her: "Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society." Later, she ended an interview with a Buzzfeed reporter by hitting him up for help with campaign donations.
Update: This post originally suggested that today's ballot initiative in the District of Columbia would decriminalize marijuana possession. It already is decriminalized. Today's measure would legalize pot. Thanks to our friends at Washington City Paper for clarifying.
[ Image by Tara Jacoby]