Regardless of what any polls might say, please don’t get complacent and assume this election will turn out the way you want or expect. (See: the Brexit vote.) Progressives can’t count on any state being a “safe state” where one can abstain from voting or can risk opting for a third-party vote that could end up helping the worst candidate get extra electoral votes and actually tip the outcome of the election, as it did in 2000 (when Nader votes that could have gone to Gore helped prevent Gore from winning Florida, New Hampshire, and almost Oregon, and Bush ended up winning the election by a very small margin). (The folly of voting for third-party candidates who can’t win in U.S. elections is a touchy subject that really deserves its own post, and I might write one later.) The survival of our very democracy—what remains of it—is at stake. I hope most people will remember and learn from history, rather than be doomed to repeat it.
In this election, many more states could serve as “swing” states than ever before, for a variety of reasons. This is not a normal election. It’s important to recognize that new voter suppression laws (including many restrictive ID laws and fewer voter protections, enabled by the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act after the last election), voter intimidation efforts, voter database purges in some states, voter database hacking (database breaches were detected this year in Arizona and Illinois, and were attempted in at least 20 states), and other such forces are sure to have a very negative impact on this year’s elections, so we need to do everything possible to counteract all of these attempts to curtail people’s right to vote. I feel an extra responsibility to vote, since so many people who should be able to vote will not be able to (some only because they’re seniors or students who haven’t been able to get the “correct” form of ID in time).
Here are very specific ways you can help—10 steps you can take right now, leading up to, and/or on election day—to try to ensure a high turnout and the best possible (i.e., least egregious) election outcomes:
1. Verify that you are still registered to vote (at your correct, current address): Go to 866OurVote.org or CanIVote.org and click on your state and follow the links, or contact your county’s elections office. Thousands of voters may have been (wrongly) purged from the voter rolls in several states. Make sure you aren’t one of them, well before you arrive at the polls on Election Day. Also send / post these links for your friends, and ask them to check and re-check their registration status before the election. If you’ve moved since you last registered or you are not yet registered to vote, register or re-register right away, if you still can (many states’ deadlines have already passed in October). You can pick up a voter registration form at a Post Office (or a library or other government building) located in your county; or go to RockTheVote.com or 866OurVote.org, or better yet, go directly to your county’s election office to register.
The upcoming election is on Tuesday, November 8. If there’s any chance that you won’t be able to get to your polling place before it closes on election day, fill out the absentee/mail-in ballot request form to receive a mail-in ballot before the specified deadline. When you receive your ballot, be sure to follow the instructions and fill it out carefully; sign it where specified and drop it off at a designated location (best option) or mail it in plenty of time (ideally well before Election Day) and be sure to put enough postage on your mail-in ballot when you send it in; in some cases, more than one regular stamp is required.
2. Sign up to help with voter registration drives, if the voter registration deadline hasn’t already passed in your state (check your Secretary of State’s website, or 866OURVOTE.org for the deadline), or help with a campaign’s Get Out the Vote efforts. You can help register voters or GOTV through your local Democratic Party office, among other groups. If you’re able to go to a “battleground” county or state, that’s great. NextGen Climate has a great web tool that makes it easy to text climate-voter millennials in swing states. Also, encourage students and young voters that you know (18+) to register to vote and to show up to vote. (Assist them in filling out their registration form completely, if they need help, and show them the state and county voting guides that explain what’s on their ballot.)
You can also help people figure out how to get the ID that they (might) need in order to vote in your state (see item #9 below), or drive them to the DMV to apply for their ID. In addition, though it is probably too late at this point (to qualify for this election), encourage and help anyone you know who has been wanting/trying to become a citizen to complete the naturalization process; you could even offer to help contribute to the steep citizenship exam fee.
3. Sign up to be an election worker at a polling place, through your County’s elections office or Secretary of State’s office, or volunteer as an official election observer or monitor, through groups like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, your local or state Democratic Party, or various civil rights groups. Alternatively, you could volunteer to help staff the Election Protection hotline to answer voting-related questions and to record and respond to reports of voting problems. (Lawyers and law students are especially wanted, but anyone can help.)
4. Find out whether your state and county’s voting systems are reliable and publicly verifiable (i.e., have a paper trail that can be audited for accountability); most state and counties do use auditable systems with a paper trial, but some still don’t. For example, Georgia’s touchscreen voting systems do not currently employ best practices. Go to VerifiedVoting.org, which works for election integrity/preparedness, to learn more. While voter fraud (e.g., voter impersonation) is extremely rare and is not easy to get away with (so it not a cause for real concern), incidents of vote hacking (and voter registration hacking) could potentially occur in some states, counties, or precincts.
Contact your Secretary of State’s office and your County’s elections office to request that they take all precautions to prevent ballot hacking and tampering, and to provide secure and verifiable voting systems with an auditable paper trail. Specifically, if you are in one of the states or counties that uses electronic voting machines, ask if you can use a paper ballot instead. And every voter should make sure they get their ballot receipt after voting, and keep it until the election has been certified.
5. Research all of the issues, propositions, and national, state, and local candidates that will be on your ballot, so that you are as informed as possible. Don’t base your decisions on campaigns’ (often deceptive) TV and radio ads or the (often corporate-funded) propaganda flyers you receive in the mail. Read the information that’s provided in your state and county’s official voter guides (which you should receive in the mail), as well as newspaper editorials and articles written by trustworthy, non-dogmatic analysts or journalists, and information provided by trusted organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters, etc. Given the prevalence of lying and mis-information (especially online and on social media), it’s important to check the veracity of any wild claims or personal attacks/smears: search the fact-checks on Politifact, FactCheck.org, and Snopes. To get additional information on what is on your ballot, and where candidates stand on specific issues, check out Vote411.org.
In California, Illinois, and New York, Voter’s Edge provides a helpful, non-partisan voting guide to help you make sense of what’s on your ballot. In California, there is also the California Progressive Voter Guide, a chart that shows what a variety of organizations think about each Proposition on the ballot. Educate yourself as much as possible. But if you still do not really know about or fully understand what a particular ballot proposition is about when it comes time to vote, it’s best not to vote on that issue.
6. Donate to candidates and issue campaigns that you support, at local, state, and national levels, and/or to your local (county or state) Democratic Party, the DSCC, DCCC, and Democratic Governors Association. Also consider donating to or volunteering for an election integrity or voting-related group, such as Election Protection, ACLU, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, MoveOn, 350Action, or others (we provided an extensive list of organizations in one of our previous posts).
7. Make your voting preferences known to your good friends and family, via conversations or posts on social media, without resorting to inflammatory insults (no one will listen to you if you’re suggesting that they’re an idiot or worse). You probably have more influence than you think, especially among your peers and others who respect you. I know it takes some courage; when you stick your neck out on political matters, a few people might want to chop it off and might lash out in a rude or offensive manner. But if you set a civil and positive tone (and only post truthful, substantiated information) and mostly focus on reaching out to people who you know personally, you’ll get fewer reactionary or vitriolic responses. Avoid telling people who they “must” or “have to” vote for (no one likes to be be told what to do). Simply state what you will do and why, and why you think it’s important. Post links to helpful and trustworthy election information, such as links for finding polling location, hours, etc. (e.g., 866OurVote.org, or your Secretary of State or County elections site). Consider sharing this blog post (and our other election posts) with your friends. And on or before voting day, remind your friends to vote.
8. Volunteer to drive people to the polls, through direct offers or via your local Democratic Party.
9. Make sure you know what the current ID requirements are for voting in your state, and bring the necessary identification document(s) with you. Many states have instituted more restrictive (discriminatory) ID requirements since the last election or since 2010: including AL, AZ, FL, IA, IL, IN, KS, MS, NC, NE, NH, OH, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, and WV. Go to 866OurVote.org, VoteRiders.org, or RockTheVote.com, call 866-OUR-VOTE, or contact your State or County’s elections offices to find out about your voter ID requirements.
10. And of course, on Election Day (or on an Early Voting day, if those are available where you are, or by mail-in ballot): PLEASE VOTE. Remind your friends to vote, and bring a friend with you.
If you experience or witness any voting problems or irregularities, report them to the Election Protection hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE, or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA) and to your County elections office and your Secretary of State; you could also report the problems to the DNC and to local media.
Also, make sure you get and keep your ballot receipt, and keep it for at least a couple weeks after the election, until the election is settled. Once all ballots have been counted, you should be able to confirm that your ballot was counted, by calling your County elections office or, in some places, you can check online.
Again, if you’ve opted to get a mail-in/absentee ballot, be sure to follow the instructions and fill it out carefully; sign it where specified and drop it off at a designated location (best option) or mail it in plenty of time (ideally well before Election Day) and be sure to put enough postage on your mail-in ballot when you send it in; in some cases, more than one regular stamp is required. Keep your ballot receipt.
Vote not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your family, future generations, vulnerable populations, other species, and the environment, atmosphere, and climate that we all share and depend on for life. Vote as if everyone’s future depends on it; it does.