Via negativa is the Latin term for Apophatic Theology, where God is conceptualized by what he is not. Similarly, I tend to vote that way for school board races. It can be hard to distinguish one candidate from the rest. Progressive candidates rarely position a progressive message. Conservative candidates tend not to display conservative ideas either. Everyone cares about kids and workforce training. So what is a voter to do?
That’s not a trivial matter. Of all the ballots you cast, your vote for a school board race is probably your highest marginal impact on the public interest from a single vote. That is because the number of voters in a school district is so small, making the relative impact you have on the outcome greater than the contests that get more attention. Also, the influence that schools may have on everything from the economy’s productivity to cultural continuity suggests that this public office may punch above its weight in terms of social impact.
So how can one vote wisely? I’ve just found the candidate endorsed by the teachers union and voted for the other candidate. I suppose if you prefer progressive policies, higher costs, and lower performance standards, you could vote the way the Oregon Education Association suggests. Choose you this day whom ye shall vote for. As for me and my house, we will be voting for Casity Troutt, Satya Chandragiri, and Krissy Hudson for the Salem-Keizer School District board.
Of course, these are great people too, highly qualified. There are positive reasons for electing them, but it can be hard to truly know the best candidate. Via negativa is a heuristic to help those voters out that wouldn’t vote, because they don’t otherwise have a means to separate the signal from the noise.
And I’m mailing my ballot in. Too many Republicans fail to vote because they didn’t avail themselves of voting by mail. Whether voting by mail is a good way to run an election or not, if it’s available to Democrats, don’t unilaterally make it unavailable to yourself.
Make sure you vote in these school board races. If you don’t have much information to go on, look at your official county voter pamphlet, find the candidate that is endorsed by the teachers union, and vote for the other one before next Tuesday. It’s not hard.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.