The Common Good
October 2004

10 Things to Do Before The Election

by Duane Shank, Matt Ching | October 2004

Voting is not enough.

In the weeks remaining before the election, there are things you can still do in your church and community to encourage informed civic participation. Here are 10 suggestions to get started.

1. Think and pray. Christian values inform our political decisions, and so deciding how to vote is never easy. Educate yourself about positions candidates have taken, and think and pray about whom you entrust with the responsibility to lead your community, state, and nation.

2. Register to vote. One out of four people of voting age weren’t registered to vote in 2000. For information on how to register, visit a public library or contact the Federal Election Commission (www. fec.gov). If you are already registered, get five other people to register.

3. Inform yourself on the issues. Study information from your denomination and organizations such as Sojourners, Call to Renewal, and Bread for the World. Discern your views on issues of poverty and economic justice, national security, health care, education, and the environment. Watch the presidential debates with others from your church and community and host a dialogue afterward.

4. Write letters to candidates. Let them know that as a Christian you care deeply about issues such as a more peaceful world, economic and social justice, and protecting God’s creation.

5. Write a letter to the editor or call talk radio shows. Effective letters are short (250 words), to the point, civil, well-reasoned, and—most important—from the heart. Thousands of people listen to local talk radio. Calling in provides an opportunity to discuss the Christian values that should inform public policies.

6. Ask questions at candidate forums and town hall meetings. It’s a good way to make candidates go "on the record" with issues you care about. Research the candidates’ records and practice what you’ll say.

7. Organize your church. While churches cannot and should not endorse candidates or political parties, they can and should educate on important issues. Ask your pastor to plan a Bible study or a preaching series on issues relevant to the election and to lead a congregational dialogue about the Christian values that should inform electoral decisions.

8. Talk to your friends and neighbors. During the remaining weeks, you will see TV ads, receive phone calls, and greet canvassers knocking on your door, all asking for your vote. While these efforts can be effective, the people you are most likely to have a healthy dialogue with are those who know and trust you. Speak up about your concerns and listen to theirs.

9. Volunteer to help get out the vote. In most communities, there are nonpartisan efforts to register people and to ensure that they vote. Efforts are needed particularly in low-income and other disenfranchised communities. To find out how to help, visit National Voice (www.nationalvoice.org), which helps nonpartisan nonprofit and community groups promote voting and other forms of civic participation. On Election Day, arrange to take several of your neighbors to the polls, especially if they have no other way to get there.

10. Vote!!! (Unless your state has early voting, you’ll have to wait until Election Day for this one.) The simple act of voting is an important action you can take to create a more just and peaceful world. Sadly, half of voting-age adults do not vote. In the 2000 presidential election, Florida and New Mexico were decided by only a few hundred votes. Every vote does matter.

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