Our work begins after Election Day: Hold your elected leaders accountable

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Once our representatives take office, we must ensure that they follow through on election promises, address our needs

Illustration of somebody engaging in four common and recommended steps of civic engagement in the U.S.
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Congratulations, you’ve voted! Voting is a fundamental first step in civic engagement. But as tiring as it is, the most important work — holding your elected leaders accountable — is only just beginning.

Officials are elected based on what they can promise their constituents and who the people believe can meet their needs most effectively. However, post-election season accountability of elected leaders feels rare. There is no shortage of fanciful campaign promises. While it takes time to periodically check in on those promises, even when news outlets are doing the heavy lifting, citizens must still take on the responsibility of sustained civic engagement by maintaining awareness of what our representatives are doing and how.

Representatives’ follow-through on measures and propositions is vital. These pieces of legislation are packed with nuance that could drastically alter their implementation. For instance, Proposition 25’s implementation is laced with uncertainty. If passed, Prop. 25 would end cash bail, partially replacing it with an algorithm-based system to aid judges in risk assessments. As a result, we have a responsibility to ensure that the algorithm’s creation is mediated by our representatives in a way that reduces inequity by avoiding the usage of factors that are based on racist data.

Similarly, Alameda County’s Measure W establishes a 0.5% sales tax, the revenue of which would be deposited into the general fund to provide services for the county’s unhoused residents. However, there is no clause built into the measure requiring that the potential $150 million garnered by the tax be used to bolster mental health resources or build housing — only our representatives can clinch the deal outlined by the measure, and we must hold them to it. 

The detrimental impacts of a lack of accountability are widespread; President Donald Trump is an excellent example. His 2016 campaign was stuffed with grandiose vows that magnetized his base, including building a southern border wall and pressuring Mexico into paying for it. In reality, this “promise” only served to heighten anti-immigrant, nationalistic and blatantly racist sentiment — and resulted in a mere 16 miles of new construction, paid for by American taxpayers.

Accountability and responsibility are not values we can shed once election season winds down; they are active, conscious choices we must consistently make to ensure that our elected leaders are truly working in our best interests. There is no greater clear-cut sign that something needs to change than when even the head of our country’s government skirts accountability and allows his promises to sit and rot.

Without follow-through, politics becomes a game of who can tell the prettiest empty promises. Don’t let that happen. The work begins now.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.