It seems like just as one election cycle ends, the next is already gearing up. Politics are an ever-present topic with friends and family and at work — it’s hard to escape and it can be very overwhelming.
But even if politics and the upcoming elections have already gotten you down, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to disengage from the voting process.
Your voice and perspective have power when you simply engage in the voting process, but that isn’t as easy as just showing up to your polling place and filling out a ballot.
The voting process
It starts with educating yourself.
Make informed decisions about who vote for (or not vote for) by using voter guides and sample ballots to research candidates.
Exercising our right to vote doesn’t mean much if we don’t weigh our options against our values to elect representatives who can employ those values in their work for the common good.
But before you do that, you should figure out what strengths you want to see in a candidate and what weaknesses you’re hoping to avoid. Then you can begin to research candidate positions.
It’s okay to bring your deepest values to the polling station. Our democracy is founded on the idea that different convictions should compete in the public arena. The separation of church and state, for example, is intended to prevent state-sponsored religion — that doesn’t mean people can’t bring their faith-based values to the political process. So our democracy depends on you speaking up for your values.
All people have inherent dignity. We should not be afraid to vote for candidates who will uphold that dignity. Speaking up for our values in the public arena is a duty of both faith and citizenship.
Go deeper than rhetoric
It’s important to be aware of political rhetoric when analyzing each candidate and their positions. Politicians will often use rhetoric (“the art of persuasion”) in an attempt to get people to vote for them. For instance, a candidate’s speechwriter might look at an audience’s demographic when putting together a speech. This allows them to better appeal to a specific crowd’s wants and needs, but it doesn’t necessarily give you a well-rounded or totally accurate picture of the candidate.
To overcome this, use trusted and reliable sources when doing research and be an active and diligent listener. Over time, you will be better able to pick up which statements are rhetorically designed to appease the crowd and which are not.
With the exception of North Dakota, every state and the District of Columbia require that their residents register to vote. Whether you agree with this aspect of the voting process or not, it’s still vital that you do, in fact, register.
Not surprisingly, there is a significant portion of eligible voters who do not register. In 2014, the percentage was more than one in five.
Because voting rules vary by state, you’ll need to look up what it takes to register where you live as soon as possible. A quick and easy way to do this is by visiting USA.Gov’s page on registering.
Generally, registering can be done online and takes just a moment of your time.
Still can’t decide?
It seems like there are an increasing number of political races where voters feel as if they must decide between the lesser of two evils. This can often lead to a feeling of despair and many people simply abstain from voting.
Yet, this isn’t a conclusion one should come to easily.
Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D., points out that it should really be seen as picking the lesser of two “disappointing choices.” When phrased this way, it’s much easier to realize that you still have a choice when it comes to voting — you’re not necessarily damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
In this instance, doing your research is more important, not less. If you use only surface-level information to come to the conclusion that you can’t vote for any candidates, then you’re doing yourself and the rest of the population a disservice.
Whether you ultimately decide to cast a vote or not, it’s important that you fully go through the process and do all the necessary research. If after doing so, you truly feel that you cannot morally vote for anyone, or that you’d rather write-in an alternative, that’s your right. But don’t let the fact that you haven’t done your research or registered to vote stand in your way.