“Democracy works, America, but we gotta want it, not just during an election year, but all the days in between. …If you want more justice in the justice system, then we’ve all got to vote, not just for a president, but for mayors and sheriffs and state’s attorneys and state legislators.”
This was one of my favorite quotes from President Obama’s DNC speech. I’m not going to pretend I don’t feel overwhelmingly passionate about the outcome of the presidential election, but it’s concerning to me to think how much attention has to be diverted to this particular branch of government from other issues on the ballot. For example, mine will also have 18 measures on it, and 12 candidates for 5 other races.
Voter turnout in the U.S. is terribly low—which means that our democracy can’t be as fully representative as it should be. But did you know that the United States is one of the only advanced democracies that holds elections on a work day? In many other countries, the government automatically registers voters and holds elections on days that are weekend days or national holidays to reduce barriers for citizens.
Can you imagine the citizen for whom voting is made more difficult for by increased voting restrictions and work conflicts? I would wager she or he is already more likely to be underrepresented as a result of class, race, and income. And while I’m on the subject, low turnout at the midterm elections (in a non-presidential election year, in other words) and resulting redistricting by Congress has made this disparity even graver.
But what this means is that we all have to actively prepare to vote. Make sure you’re registered on time (the first deadlines come in some states on October 8th). It’s easy to register. Learn how—you may be able to use social media.
Here are some other ways to prepare to vote:
Set aside at least an hour to see what measures you’ll have the option to vote on. You don’t have to vote if you feel uninformed—but it’s worth a little reading ahead. Check Vote411 to see a sample ballot for your address.
And, if you need some help deciding, try the non-partisan Vote Smart Project to see which candidates for president and for your congressional districts best match with your positions. For ballot measures, you’ll need to work a little harder, but the same site lets you enter your state and see which measures are pending in the next election alongside full text. I also like to read the endorsements from the editorial board of a news source I tend to trust to see the issue broken down.
Check your polling place, hours, and schedule an appointment time to vote—anywhere from one to three hours. Notify your employer if you need to take time from work, and coordinate with family, childcare and others as needed. Your state may require your employer to offer paid time off to vote.
Your vote does count—and local elections will have as much impact (sometimes more) on your life. So, are you registered?
P.S. We go high.[Image created using Paperless Post; lead quote from President Obama’s speech at the DNC]