On November 8, 2016, we will be accorded the privilege to exercise a very precious right that many in the world do not enjoy. The right to vote for our local, state and national leaders as well as ballot initiatives that impact our communities should not be taken for granted or treated cavalierly. To refuse or fail to vote, believing that our vote does not matter is more than just poor citizenship, it is also a failure of Christian stewardship.
As Christians, we are called both as individuals and as members of our congregations to engage in conversation on policy issues in accordance with our Baptismal Covenant vow to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.” Voting for those persons and issues that will further these promises is an undeniable Christian responsibility. Beyond voting, our engagement in the electoral process must include protecting and upholding the right to vote, equipping others to take part in the electoral process, and calling for civility and respect in the conduct of political campaigns.
Regardless of how you feel about the candidates running in this year’s presidential election, you must vote. It is a precious freedom for which many in this country gave their very lives. As an African-American, I am acutely aware that the right of People of Color to vote was only guaranteed by constitutional amendment a mere 150 years ago. Moreover, it required passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to remove the last vestiges of state-sanctioned discrimination at the ballot box. I also harbor no illusion that several states have recently passed legislation that profoundly restricts the ability of People of Color to register to vote in an effort to suppress that vote. We should do everything that we can to assure that everyone has an equal opportunity to vote.
Many of our mothers and fathers and grandparents endured great hardships and often violent attempts to prevent them from “exercising the franchise.” I vote to honor them and to pay tribute to the sacrifices they made so that I can enjoy the unfettered right to vote.
Perhaps, then, one the most meaningful duties that we can perform as both citizen and Christian is to encourage those who would otherwise not vote to go to the polls “in spite of.” Disenchantment with both of the presidential candidates or with the entire political process can never justify a refusal to vote. Quite simply, too much is at stake for us to stay home.
I vividly recall the single instance that I chose not to vote, believing that my city’s school levy that had never been defeated in past elections would surely not need my vote to pass. I was chagrined to learn when the votes were counted, that the levy went down to defeat by a few hundred votes. I vowed to never take my vote for granted again.
First off, if you haven’t registered to vote, there is still time. You can register any time before October 18; further information is here. If you don’t plan to be in town on Election Day, you can still arrange to vote by mail-in ballot. The deadline for a mail-in application to vote by mail is November 1. You also can apply in person before 3:00 PM on November 7. Information about mail-in voting is here.
Want to do more? One idea is to model good Christian responsibility on Election Day by volunteering to take the physically challenged or differently abled to neighborhood polling stations. Congregations can organize car caravans to provide this much needed public service. Other opportunities to serve your community during the election season can be found in the Election Engagement Toolkit published by the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
As my grandmother used to say: “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”