By Sister Rose Marie Tresp, Institute Justice Team
Why should we vote? How can we strengthen the power of voting in our local, state and national elections? John Lewis, late civil-rights activist and member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, stated: “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.”
Although national elections often receive the most attention, the outcome of elections at the state level may determine a significant number of decisions about laws and regulations related to our Critical Concerns. Decisions at the state level will impact both the resources used and the regulations that affect the environment, the criminal justice system, the education systems, voting regulations, social services and many other issues. Decisions at a local town, city, or county level may determine zoning laws, school boards and the office of the police chief.
The first necessary step is to register to vote. Since some states have been purging their voter rolls, even those who think they are registered should check to make sure the registration is still valid. Generally checking your registration status should also give you other information about voting precincts, sample ballots, etc. This link will guide you to make sure your registration is still valid. Interfaith Power and Light – Get Registered to Vote (civicnation.org)
The second step is to become familiar with your state’s voter registration deadlines and requirements for voting. These links will guide you to specific information for your state.
- Link to Your State’s Voter Registration Guidelines, Forms and Online Tools
- State voter registration deadlines
- State voting requirements
Please remember that state laws and regulations possibly have changed since the last election, so don’t rely on your memory from the last election.
The third step is to encourage and even assist others to register to vote. The link above to your state may have fact sheets that you can hand out. Perhaps you could take these fact sheets to food pantries and other places that serve populations less likely to vote. The fact sheet may even be in multiple languages.
Can you articulate in a few sentences why voting is so important? This resource, a voter reflection guide, supported by the Institute Justice Team, is linked here and can be downloaded. Using this reflection guide can help you to share your vision of why voting is important.
This voter reflection guide, in a few short pages, covers the issues of environment, protection of our democracy and voter rights, immigration, an economy of inclusion, the pursuit of restorative and racial justice, protection of the dignity of LGBTQ+ people, protection of everyone’s health, and the building of a peaceful world. Reflection and discussion questions are included.
A fourth step is to decide to deepen your engagement in the system of voting. You could be a poll worker, a poll observer or a poll protector. Below are general descriptions of these roles, but the terminology may vary from state to state.
Poll workers sign up with their local Board of Elections to work the polls. This may even be a paid position.
Poll observers inside the voting area are allowed in some states. The number inside a polling place is limited; rules for participation vary from state to state. Poll observers may be assigned through the pollical parties. This role is sometimes called partisan citizen observers. Poll Watchers and Challengers (ncsl.org)
Poll protectors are usually organized and trained through a state non-profit. A poll protector waits outside the polling place and watches for people who have had trouble voting. The poll protector is given a hotline phone number to volunteer lawyers trained in voting laws. The poll protector may also be reporting to a central number the length of the line, the ease of parking, etc. The poll protector is usually given a T-shirt and posters for identification. For more information: Election Protection | Stop Voter Suppression & Protect the Vote!
Many other volunteer opportunities are available, some that can be done from your living room. Non-profit organizations such as Volunteer with VoteRiders • VoteRiders can link to activities such as postcard writing, text banking, phone banking, and door-to-door canvassing. These are efforts shown to increase voter participation.
Check with the local branch of Vote Riders to assist with driving people to get their voter IDs if that is needed or to go vote in person at the polls.
Another overlooked method of participation is attending your County Board of Elections meetings. These boards make decisions on where precinct polling places are located, the hours and places for early voting, and even on how many voting machines are located at each precinct. The media often report on voting precincts that have long lines and hours of wait time to vote. Rarely if ever are these long lines and wait times located in wealthy or middle-class white parts of town. Reducing the number of polling places in communities composed of mostly Black, Latino and low-income citizens has been shown to reduce and suppress voting in these communities. This does not happen by accident.
Every election is determined by the people who show up. Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights activist during the suffragette movement in the early 20th century, said: “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Elections are also decided by laws that suppress votes or by laws that encourage voting.