Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes we need a little advice on how to pull it off.
Q: I’m nineteen and this will be the first election that I’ll be able to vote in. I’ve never done this before but, honestly, from the little I know about the process, I feel disillusioned by the whole thing and what’s going on. From what I’ve read and seen with people saying “your vote matters”, I’m just really not sure why to bother since what I want to see isn’t happening. Why should I register to vote or even vote when I feel like maybe it doesn’t matter?
I vote because it’s a hard-earned right and my duty as a citizen. Most importantly, not voting simply hands your civic power to someone else which, in our polarized political landscape, is not only lazy but dangerous, considering how many of our political leaders are becoming outright theocrats. It’s more important than ever that humanist voices are heard to keep our government secular.
—Sharon McGill, Graphic Design Manager
Voting in your first election can definitely seem like a daunting task. I felt similar when the first election I was eligible to vote in came up—I had recently moved to a new state for college, had a ton of things on my plate as a freshman trying to figure out academics, a new social life, and what I wanted to do with my future. Why should I have cared enough to put another task—registering to vote—on my plate?
However, there was one thing I did know, and it was quite simple: there were things happening that I didn’t like. Making my voice heard in the democratic process for the first time would give me the chance to begin helping right what I believed were wrongs. The least I could do was register to vote and cast it.
Ask yourself: what are you most passionate about? Where do you want to see change or growth? When you cast a vote, you are ensuring that you, the values you hold dear, and your vision, have a seat at the table. Your vote—every vote—counts, matters, and has an impact on these things. And it’s one of your most sacred and useful rights to exercise in our democracy. Additionally, voting is not just about who you would like to see in positions of power—it’s also about what effects that power will have on others. What would you like to see for your friends, your family, your community?
If you are feeling confused about the process, I hope some of the following resources are helpful. Registering to vote can actually be quite simple, and only takes a few minutes when conveniently done online. You can learn about how to register to vote in your state here. If you’d like to get a jump on voting once you’re registered, check out this state-specific information on voting early.
If you are looking for some state-specific answers about elections, Secretaries of State are often a state’s top elections official, (though in some states, that job goes to the Lieutenant Governor). Search for ”(your state) Secretary of State/Lieutenant Governor” on Google to learn about your state’s election processes, browse frequently asked questions, and even find and read your state’s election manual, if you feel so inclined.
Additionally, one thing I like to do when I receive a ballot is find some time to research the candidates and/or offices on it that I am not familiar with. This can be fun, I promise. Simply type in their name, go to their official website, and check out their ”on the issues” tab. Do you see your values reflected?
You got this!
—Isabella Russian, Policy Coordinator
At the risk of dating myself, the first time I voted in an election I was convinced that I was going to oust what I thought was a tremendously unpopular George W. Bush from the presidency by voting enthusiastically for John Kerry. Things obviously did not go as I had hoped, and as a result I felt as disillusioned as you seem to feel now. But as I learned more about how and what we vote for in different parts of the country, I began to realize that the big, flashy federal offices may grab all the attention, but the down-ballot races are just as important. One of the best ways you can usher in and see real change is through electing city councilors, judges, state representatives, even school board members—local leaders that will end up having a tremendous influence in your local community. Your vote can and will have an impact, and the best place to see that in action is at the local level.
—Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager
I share your concern that the change you “want to see isn’t happening.” Witnessing the resurgence of dangerous anti-democratic, bigoted, anti-science, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic political forces in our society can be overwhelming, but this must not prevent you from your responsibility to take action against these forces. Our system doesn’t work if we don’t participate in the electoral process. Inaction simply allows the status quo and reactionary political forces to succeed.
Also, voting is just the bare minimum of electoral action. If you want to see change happen, you have to do more than just vote.
First, you need to be an informed voter—use resources like Ballotpedia, VoteSmart, and Vote411 to get information on ALL the candidates on your ballot to make sure the candidates you choose reflect your values. This is not just for federal candidates, but also for state and local candidates too. Also, don’t keep this research to yourself. Tell your friends, neighbors, and family who you are supporting and make sure they are registered and are going to vote too.
Next, invest in your preferred candidates—volunteer for their campaigns and/or make financial contributions, if you are able. Volunteers and money make campaigns possible. Help make sure your candidates have the resources they need to win. If you have the resources to donate, you can also look outside of your area and invest in candidates across the country who will be key voices to make the change you want to see happen.
Last, voting is not the final action in the electoral process to create the change you want to see happen. After the election, stay in contact with your local, state, and federal elected officials to make sure they enact the policies that are needed. If they refuse or are not acting quickly enough, find organizations that are working on the issues you care about and volunteer and financially support their efforts. From these connections help recruit candidates to challenge recalcitrant incumbents or consider challenging one of them yourself in the next election.
Making change happen is not easy, but it starts by being an active participant in the electoral process. Register and vote!
—Ron Millar, Political Coordinator, Center for Freethought Equality
It’s definitely frustrating to feel like you’re powerless in government, but voting is still an important form of communicating your wants and needs to society. Ballots include opportunities for you to decide on referendums, presidents, members of congress, judges, councils, governors, mayors, etc. —which influence all aspects of our lives. Researchers and politicians study voting trends to understand regions and populations, so your vote counts well beyond each election. Strong voter turnout makes voting blocs more powerful and harder to ignore. Substantial change may take time but it won’t happen without our engagement.
I’m motivated to vote when I think about who doesn’t want me and my loved ones, or people like us, to have a voice. Why should someone else make decisions for us, especially when they don’t understand our needs or wants?
—Emily Newman, Senior Education Coordinator