Voting in free and fair elections has been the trademark of American politics for decades. The founders of our country, as well as millions of women and African Americans, fought and died for this sacred right.
How have we repaid them? With increasing levels of voter apathy and decreasing levels of voter turnout.
Americans have allowed single issues or the letter next to a candidate’s name to determine their vote. Such a black-and-white view requires less thinking than the nuanced reality and evades us from the hard work and responsibilities of keeping a democracy running.
Are we taking advantage of the democratic process fully if we are only voting on one issue or along party lines? Are we really living up to our civic duties as Americans if we don’t take the time to educate ourselves on the candidates and the issues?
Voting is no longer seen as a sacred duty but as an inconvenient chore.
In October, Gallup, a global analytics company, conducted a poll asking respondents how important certain issues were in determining their vote for the midterm elections on Nov. 8. According to the survey, the five most important issues are the economy, abortion, crime, gun violence and immigration.
However, single-issue voting is different than having political values and priorities. Single voting means prioritizing one issue above all others and letting that issue dictate your vote often while ignoring how little you may agree with the candidate on other significant issues or how little you regard the personal character of the candidate when compared to others. For example, think of someone who voted for Donald Trump because he said he’d make Supreme Court appointments who’d overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time,” said Dallin H. Oaks, a former member of the Utah Supreme Court. “Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.”
Of course, single-issue voting isn’t all bad. It can draw attention to an issue and let politicians know what is important to the people. However, this often puts divisive culture war issues at the center of voters’ minds, which may overshadow any other aspects of a candidate’s personality or platform at the polls.
Each person has issues that are important to them. It is not a bad thing to have certain issues prioritized, but don’t let passion make you blind.
Straight vs. Split-ticket voting
Straight-ticket voting refers to the practice of voting for every candidate that a specific political party has on a general election ballot. Split-ticket voting means you vote for candidates of different parties for different offices; For example, you might vote for a Republican senator and a Democratic congressman.
Split-ticket voting has become rarer in recent years. According to data from Daily Kos, 2020 saw an all-time low with only 16 of 435 congressional districts having a split ticket, which refers to districts voting for one party for president but sending a member of the opposite party to Capitol Hill. In the 1990s, when the seeds of partisanship and polarization were still being planted, the average number of split-ticket districts was 70 per election cycle. 2020 marked a low point, and the number of split-ticket districts is expected to keep decreasing.
Polarization transformed modern politics. We shed statesmanship and compromise. Republicans delight in dehumanizing democrats. Democrats revel in reviling republicans. National politics are growing more and more toxic. Seeing Democrats and Republicans duke it out in Congress and the White House leads many away from political participation. The lack of involved participation from the governed can have disastrous consequences.
However, there is one thing we can do to possibly turn the tide: Become educated voters.
The importance of educated voters
On election day, voting can often be seen as an item to check off the daily to-do list. When you add the responsibility of researching candidates and issues, the amount of work required to be an educated voter can be overwhelming.
Here are a few things that will lead to being a more educated voter:
— Know what issues are important to you
— Know the candidates and their platforms
— Know where to vote and how to register
Many people have already completed the first step. They might have specific issues they’re passionate about, such as protecting the second amendment or protecting a woman’s right to choose, or they might just have a general desire to see the price of gas and groceries go down.
The second step is where people trip up. With all the federal, state and local races happening each election cycle, it can be a lot of information to keep track of. Most people overcomplicate this step. You don’t need to know everything about every candidate or every current event. Even the basics can take you a long way.
Here is a list of some races happening in Idaho and links to each candidate’s website:
You can learn more about where to vote and how to register to vote in Idaho here.
What can I do?
Everyone has their own opinions on how government can be better. However, if you want a say in what goes in the pie, you have to be in the kitchen. You have to know what’s in the recipe. If you want the recipe to change, you need to speak up.
Similarly, if we don’t like how the government is running things or the policies they’re creating, democracy provides us with several ways to speak out. The first and easiest way is to vote.
Don’t thoughtlessly cast a ballot on Nov. 8. Make an effort to find someone who’ll best represent all the interests you have, not just one.