Jenny Wolochow studied Philosophy and Religious Studies at Stanford University (MA ‘11), taught elementary school in California through Teach for America, and now works as a Product Marketing Manager for Partners at Coursera. She is passionate about civic engagement and explains why in this post, which also touts voting by mail and links to a great guide she developed to help California voters navigate this year’s ballot. Views expressed here are her own.
I know some of you are disenchanted with American politics – especially this year. But the craziness of this presidential election shouldn’t stop you from participating in our democracy.
Voting is a right that not everyone has, and our ancestors fought hard to earn us that right. It’s a chance to have our voices heard – and it can make a difference. For those reasons, it’s an important responsibility for us to take advantage of that opportunity and to use it well and wisely.
Outside of just the presidential election, there are many local candidates who deserve your attention. In fact, one could argue that state and local races matter considerably more than federal ones. If you live in 35 states, specific policy issues will be on the ballot and should also be on your radar. I live in one of those states and have created a ballot guide to help my fellow Californians navigate this year’s voluminous and confusing set of propositions. The guide includes information on the San Francisco ballot measures as well.
Knowing your options for how to vote (i.e., by what method you should vote) is also important. Most states have three voting methods: (1) in person on election day, (2) in person early, or (3) by mail. You can use the resources at vote.org to check with your local elections office to see the available methods and key deadlines this year.
My recommendation: If you want to get the biggest return on investment for your vote, you can get the same “benefit” with a very low “cost” by choosing to vote by mail. As I’ve learned firsthand from being a native Oregonian (voting by mail is the default for everyone in the state), voting by mail has three important advantages over in-person voting:
1) It’s convenient. When you vote by mail, you can vote whenever you have time; you don’t have to worry about your schedule. Traveling out of town on election day? No problem. Too busy at work to get time off for voting in person? No big deal. Not sure where your polling place is? Doesn’t matter. You don’t even have to fill out the ballot all at once; you can space it out and fill in parts of it whenever you have the time. You can choose to return your completed vote-by-mail ballot either in person or by mail to a county elections office. Just remember that your ballot must be turned in before the polls close on election day.
2) It helps you make thoughtful, informed choices. When you get your ballot in advance, you have plenty of time to review it, consider your options, and research issues.
3) It’s more private than in-person voting. You decide when and where to fill out a vote-by-mail ballot and put it in a sealed envelope, instead of having to carry your ballot around in a public place with a thin divider.
Voting is not perfect. Our democratic system is not perfect. But there are still good reasons to participate in it, and it’s often easier and more productive to vote than many people think.