Election day in the USA is nearly here. Some of you have already voted and some of you know exactly how you plan to vote. For those of you who are waiting for November 6th, I offer these non-partisan voting tips that come from many years of experience. I hope they help to clarify your choices. If you have more tips, share in the comments below. We’re all in this together.
Political party affiliation is not marriage. In a marriage, you vow to stick with your partner for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer. You take your spouse as-is: stinky feet, bad habits, credit card debt, and all. And if you both play by the rules and if God smiles on your union, you’ll stay together as long as you both shall live.
Politics is not the same. You don’t have to take a political party as-is or stay with it for life. Just because you’re registered red or blue doesn’t mean you have to accept the bad with the good. You can still vote for a law or a candidate that is outside of your registered party. (No, not in the primaries. You know what I mean.)
If a proposed law seems like a given, look for the catch. If proposed legislation promises something that is already a right, watch out. There’s something else tacked on. For example, in Florida, a proposed state constitutional amendment [No. 6 Constitutional Revision, Article I, Section 16, Article V, Sections 8 and 21, Article XII, New Section] would require courts to uphold the constitutional rights of victims. That’s a red flag because courts are already required to uphold the constitutional rights of all. Tacked onto this proposed amendment is a mandatory retirement age for judges.
Many proposals also couple something popular with a totally unrelated unpopular issue. Again in Florida, a proposed amendment to the state constitution [No. 9 Constitutional Revision, Article II, Section 7, Article X, Section 20] would prohibit both offshore drilling and indoor vaping. Why are these two issues being decided by one vote and do both of these laws need to be a part of the Florida Constitution?
Don’t write in a candidate that is not on the ballot. You may think you’re throwing away your vote with a protest anyway, so you write in Jesus or Mickey Mouse or Deez Nuts. The thing is, if the write-in candidate is not registered in your county, that vote is disregarded. However, if you write in a candidate that is registered, that vote is counted. Choose a registered candidate that represents your personal values the closest. Even if that candidate doesn’t win, the vote will send a message to the winning candidate about what voters really want.
You don’t have to discuss it. It used to be considered bad manners to talk politics with acquaintances, or to continue a political conversation with friends or family if things start to get heated. These days, pollsters come right up to our doorsteps and ask who we plan to vote for. We argue with strangers on social media. Even close friendships are broken over differences of opinion. It’s sad and meaningless. You don’t need to tell pollsters, your classmates, your workmates, or even your family how you plan to vote or how you did vote. You don’t need to feel pressured and you don’t need to pressure others. Vote for whoever you feel is the best choice and support or oppose whatever legislation you feel is appropriate with anonymity. If you say you’ll vote one way, then vote another, no one will know unless you tell. Vote your conscience and let others vote theirs.
Prioritize your values. Yes, it would be great if a candidate or policy agreed with every single thing we believe, but that’s not how it works. Think about what is the most important issue for you, what is the next most important issue, etc. Think about what each candidate and/or proposed legislation is doing or will do about those issues. If they’ve already served, have they done what they said in regards to that issue or are they all talk? Sometimes we have to compromise and accept something we don’t like for a greater good.
Do your homework close to home. Most voters focus on controversial legislation–such as the legalization of marijuana–and big-ticket candidates–such as senators and governors–but your county’s local government will impact your life more directly. In addition to the “big” issues, do an internet search for your county’s sample ballot to find out who is running and what local legislation is being considered. Look up candidates for school board, sheriff, county commissioners, judges and more. Find out as much as you can before voting.
When in doubt, don’t. If you are uncertain about proposed legislation, vote no. This is especially important if the proposed change is a change in your state’s constitution–because that is a big thing. You may want a law in place in your county but not necessarily want that law constitutionally mandated for every county in your state. Or you may want part of the proposal, but not the other part that is tacked on. Weigh out risk versus benefit. If it doesn’t pass, nothing changes. It can be brought up again, perhaps rewritten. If it does pass, it’s the law. There’s more to lose by voting for a law you’re unsure of.
As Forrest Gump says, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Let me know what you think in the comments below. I leave you with this short and funny voting video.
Kathryn A. Frazier is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her beloved family, Scruffy Dog and Valentino the Ridiculously Tiny Dog. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.