Voting for Dummies

Why and How to Vote for the Politically Disengaged

In second grade, we learned about US presidential elections and the voting process. It was 1992. Bill Clinton was running against George Bush and there was this other guy running too, named Ross Perot, but he didn’t really have a shot at winning. That was my understanding, anyway.

One day in class, they brought in a voting booth for us to look at. New York State, at the time, used the lever-style voting machines, which made the whole voting process fun. Something about pushing the levers, the tangible nature of it, the feel and the sound…it made you feel like you were actively engaging with the political process.

wikimedia commons, public domain

I remember, that year, going with my dad to vote on Election Day. We looked at the ballot while we waited in line and it looked like the ones I saw in class. When it was our turn to go into the booth, he lifted me up, pointed to the levers, and let me push them down. He let me pull the big lever to close and open the curtain too, but I needed his help with that one.

This was only one of many times I accompanied my dad on Election Day. He instilled this value in me to always vote. Maybe it’s not a value, even, it’s more like he instilled this sense of duty. Because that’s how he always explained it: it’s our duty as citizens to vote. That’s how we participate in the governance process. Plus, people in other countries sometimes don’t even have the right to vote, so we should appreciate the fact that we do.

In that sense, voting is not only a duty, but it is also a privilege — one we should never take for granted.

My dad and I have very different political views nowadays. I could never bring myself to push the levers of some of the candidates he now supports. But on election days, whether the big presidential ones or the small local ones related to issues like should the town fund an artificial turf football field, I often text him a pic of my little “I Voted” sticker. And, regardless of how I voted, whether or not he agrees with my choices, he always says he’s proud of me.

photo by troye owens, via flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

No Excuse to Not Vote

Even though there are plenty of things wrong with our political system, I do think voting is our duty as citizens. For some, myself included, it’s the most minimal thing you can do to effect change. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort or action. If you do nothing else, if you don’t rally, if you don’t contribute funds to candidates or parties, if you don’t have a sign in your yard showing your support for whoever, if you don’t make phone calls or go door-to-door, if you do nothing else, at the very least: YOU CAN VOTE.

Not just CAN. You SHOULD vote.

And if you don’t vote, don’t ever complain to me about the current political climate. EVER. You give up the right to complain the moment you choose not to vote. Next election, go vote and then you can complain all you want.

I would not describe myself as “politically active”. Not even a little. I know enough about politics to have some vaguely-formed opinions about candidates, but that’s about it. Mostly, the news is so doom and gloom, I try to avoid it. But even if you’re politically disengaged, that’s no excuse to not vote.

I do some research the day before (or even day of) an election, and walk in to vote armed with enough knowledge to make a relatively informed decision. Am I a model citizen? Probably not. Am I an active, semi-responsible voter? Hell yeah.

Anecdotally, I hear two main reasons why people don’t vote:

(1) My vote doesn’t really matter.

(2) I don’t know enough about the candidates to decide.

I’ve already addressed number 1. That’s a whiny, lame-o excuse. Sure, there are problems with the political system and maybe that’s why you feel like your vote doesn’t matter (especially if you live in a state or town that overwhelmingly leans toward the left or right). But voting is your right and your privilege and your opportunity to voice your political view. Just fucking do it.

As for 2, well, that’s also a pretty lame-o excuse. Go to Google and search on “candidates running for election where I live”. It’s easy as that.

The internet is at your fingertips and it’s full of information that can help you make an informed choice. Take 10 minutes. Take an hour. Take 5 hours. However long you need, just do some minimal amount of research to learn a tiny little bit about the candidates and issues on your ballot.

You don’t need to know every single thing about every candidate running everywhere. You just need to know a little bit about the candidates you’ll be choosing from. You just need to know where they stand on the issues that are important to you. That’s all! It’s really, really easy. I promise.

Here’s another tip: when I do this research before an election, I write down a list of names of the people I want to vote for and bring it with me to the voting booth. It’s totally fine to bring a little cheat sheet with you for your own reference. This is really helpful in local elections where you’re voting for something like 10 school board members and it might be difficult to remember all the names. HOW COULD IT BE ANY EASIER?

Helpful Resources Any Dummy Can Use

In case Google doesn’t immediately get you the information you’re looking for, here are some online resources I find helpful for learning about candidates. Before using any of these, though, I’d first suggest you look in your local newspaper. There will usually be an election guide of some kind and there are often interviews with candidates. After that, check these out:

HeadCount

This is a one-stop-shop of voting info: check to see if you’re registered (and register if you’re not), find your polling place, see if you need to bring an ID, learn about absentee voting, check out your ballot, research issues and candidates, etc. If you’re too late to register for this year’s election, stop being a dummy and register for next year.

screenshot from headcount.org

Vote Smart

Vote Smart has a ton of information on candidates, which you can search by name or by your zip code. You can see candidates’ bios, how they’ve voted, what their positions are on issues, and the top contributors to their campaigns. There’s fun little “Vote Easy” tool, too, where you answer questions about how you feel about issues and it shows you which candidates have similar views to you.

screenshot of Vote Smart’s Vote Easy tool

Ballotpedia

This one asks for your email address, but you don’t need to enter it. Just fill in your address and Ballotpedia spits out your exact ballot for your location. You can click on candidates’ names to learn more, read about ballot measures, and find your polling place.

Vote411

Vote411 is essentially the same exact thing at Ballotpedia. It might have a slightly better user interface, depending on what you like. Just another option. Both are good.

I Side With

If you like quizzes, this site is for you. Take a quiz on your opinions on issues. Answer as many or as few of the questions as you’d like. The results show you how the candidates align with your views.

screenshot from isidewith.com

Dive Deep

If you really want to dive deep into your research, these are good sources for debunking or corroborating all the sketchy info you may have heard from places like Facebook, and for finding out how politicians have voted in the past:

Okay, I’m stopping here because this may have already become too overwhelming.

The short of it is: if second-grade me could understand the importance of voting, certainly anyone can. Even if you don’t really care about politics most of the time, it’s still your duty to vote and be somewhat informed when doing so. Do a little research, make choices, vote. Don’t be a dummy. ✌️

Mystery woman by day. Writer by night. Hopeless yet unrelenting 24–7. I like to contemplate: love, sex, feelings, quantum physics, and pop music lyrics.