In the last election, South Carolina received one of the lowest voter turnout rates across the nation. In order to ensure that your voice is heard, consider tips offered by this guest blog.
Your local elected officials make decisions that determine sales taxes, infrastructure, and zoning that shapes city development and neighborhood quality. Your state legislators determine how much you’ll pay in state taxes and how those taxes will be spent, define voting districts that can positively or negatively affect fair elections, and state laws that affect our daily lives. The men and women we elect to the U.S. Congress and Presidency help to shape how our civil rights are protected, appoint judges that will rule on court cases, manage international relationships, and authorize military actions which can have a profound positive or negative impact on our economy and our lives.
One of the primary reasons for the American Revolution was “taxation without representation”. However, in the last presidential election, only 41% of Americans voted for a candidate. Another 29% were ineligible to vote, and a whopping 30% did not vote at all. Each state has a set number of Electoral College members, based on population. Voter turnout determines how each state’s representatives to the Electoral College will vote. A candidate can win a state if his or her supporters are committed to voting, but the majority of voters who oppose that candidate don’t bother to vote. In the last election, there were four states in which the votes between the two candidates was less than 1%. A different voter turnout in 2‐3 of those states may have resulted in a different overall outcome.
So, if you are 18 or older, and you want your views represented, it is critical that you become a registered and informed voter. There are three easy steps to take to make sure you are represented.
Step 1 – Register. If you are 18 and a U.S. citizen you can register 30 days prior to an election online at http://scvotes.org, in person at the county board of registration, the DMV office, or by mail. You can download the application from the above website.
Step 2 – Do your homework, know who and what is on the ballot. Several websites can provide basic information: SCVOTES.org, SCIWAY.net, and Vote411.org. But to really understand an issue or how a candidate is likely to vote, you’ll need to do some digging and your own evaluation. DON’T rely on social media. Some sites are bogus news outlets. The posts or comments of friends and family are going to reflect their opinions and their experiences, which may or may not be based on facts. Listen and engage, but verify for yourself. Nor should you rely on just one news media source. All media outlets have a bias, though it can run the gamut from fairly objective to extremely partisan. Depending on what information is included, who is quoted, or the overall perspective the same story can give you two different views.
So what should you do in order to get a balanced perspective? Here are some ideas:
- Candidate’s website will provide insight into their key issues and committee assignments.
- Websites like OpenSecrets.org, Ballotpedia.org, and Votesmart.org can provide information on candidate’s voting record, legislation sponsored or supported, and their sources of campaign funding.
- If you care about a specific issue, check out non‐profits that advocate on that issue. For example: The Nature Conservancy for the Environment, NRA for gun rights, or AARP for senior citizens. Government websites can be a wealth of information on issues ranging from the deficit to immigration.
- Don’t overlook news media; stick to mainstream news outlets that are fairly objective: PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and other big city papers. Try to pick one that is more conservative and one that is more liberal in their viewpoint to get a balanced perspective.
Step 3 – Vote! Your assigned polling place is listed on your voter registration card. Polling places are open 7 am to 7 pm. You have the right to vote if you are in line or inside the polling place when the polls close. You will need to bring a current and valid photo ID: SC Driver’s License, SC DMV‐issued photo ID, SC voter registration card with photo, Federal military ID or US passport. If you can’t vote on election day due to employment, vacation, age or disability, you can request an absentee ballot online, by calling 803‐734‐9060, by mail, or in person.
Or I invite you to send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re feeling frustrated about the election process, the best solution is to insert yourself into the process, not stay at home. Volunteer on the campaign staff of a local political candidate whose views you admire in order to influence others and encourage their votes. It’s also the best way to train for running for political office one day yourself!
ACLU Voter Education Program volunteer
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nationwide, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with approximately 500,000 members dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality embodied in Constitution and this nation’s civil rights laws.