Being a voter doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan.
First, consider the things that matter to you about this country — things that you most want to protect or change. Almost certainly, at least one — and perhaps all — will be affected for better or worse by the elected representatives you choose in the November elections.
You may want to protect your online identity from misuse. Or improve access to adequate health care. Or reform the immigration system. Or protect your freedom of speech. Or stop the use of fossil fuels. These issues and scores of others will likely be considered by the next Congress and most state legislatures. States are now taking the lead on hotly contested issues such as funding for education, gun laws, net neutrality, transgender rights and legalizing marijuana.
Second, learn how your current representatives stand on the issues you most care about by checking one of a number of online sites, including ontheissues.org, votesmart.org, headcount.org and isidewith.org. These sites tell you what positions your candidates for Congress and other levels of government in your district take on your key issues.
You must plan two more steps — register to vote and vote. Democracy, as has been often said, is not a spectator sport. It is not enough to care about an issue. You need to vote for the candidate who best aligns with your own positions on key concerns.
Voting is as simple as it is crucial. You can register to vote in California or your home state through stanford.turbovote.org. If you’ve already registered, use TurboVote to sign up for text and/or email reminders with election information, dates and deadlines. If you request an absentee ballot, you will receive completed forms in the mail, along with an addressed, stamped envelope. If you like to vote in person, know your polling location in advance, and plan on a specific time in your day.
Finally, as you make your plan, ensure that you are a well-informed voter. Discuss the things that concern you with others, particularly those with views that differ from your own. Read opposing views from reputable sources. This is a time to break out of your own echo chamber and steer away from partisan divisiveness. Bitter partisanship, outrageous claims and differing views of what constitutes truth all hinder our ability as a nation to address and resolve the complex issues we face. Shared faith in our democracy is the glue that holds America together, and participating thoughtfully in democracy as an informed voter strengthens that glue.
Some people say that their vote alone will not solve those problems. That is true, but it misses the point. Your vote gives you a voice in the solutions, and it is essential to the process that makes this a healthy country. This fall is expected to see the largest voter turnout in any mid-term election in recent times. Embrace your responsibility for making our democracy work. Be sure to register and vote!
— Professor Thomas Ehrlich, Stanford Graduate School of Education