One of the greatest attributes of the Constitution is its reliance on checks and balances that spread the power to run our country among the three branches. Each of these branches, in one way or another, involves the citizen vote. We vote for the President, we vote for our Senators and our House Representative, and the President and Members of Congress appoint or nominate and vote on members of the Judicial branch. Our vote impacts all three branches. It would seem that this powerful tool, the ability to vote, would be a basic freedom that was assured to all citizens and that the selection of the candidates who are available for us to vote on would be an open and inclusive process. But historically that hasn’t been the case, and it remains an evolving process today.
At our country’s birth, the right to vote was given only to a small subset of the population: white, male landowners. Over the years different states sought to expand the right to vote while others tried to limit it by gender, race, income, literacy, and age. The federal government, either through amendments to the Constitution or by rulings of the courts tried to stop these screening methods and has been mostly successful. Today, voting is a powerful way to voice our opinion. We are constantly seeing and hearing public service announcements urging us to vote. I know that some people may think that their vote doesn’t mean anything. If you live in a state that is solid red or blue, you might think it is a waste of time, especially if you belong to the minority party. Hopefully, some of the following ideas will open your eyes to some ways that you can make your voice and your vote even more impactful no matter where you live.
The way candidates are chosen is a state-by-state decision, and the methods vary widely. The primaries can be closed, partially closed, partially open, open to unaffiliated voters, open or top-two. Primaries become the de facto election in States and Congressional Districts that are historically solid Democrat or Republican. The gerrymandering of Congressional Districts has added to the number of races that are decided in the primaries.
These non-competitive general election races make it more important that you don’t just vote but work to ensure that you have the best chance of making your vote count. When I review the candidates that are on the ballot, whether they be local, state, or federal races, I choose the one that I think will best represent my stance on the issues that affect me most. I want someone that thinks like me or at least is the closest to thinking like me. Now, if I’m a Democrat in a solid Republican State or District there’s a good chance that the candidate that wins the election will not reflect my stance on most issues. I’ll talk about some things we can do in that situation later. Right now, I want to discuss what happens when I’m a member of the same party that is in solid control of my State or District. The primaries become the battle ground where the winner is chosen.
It’s my experience that getting involved in the primaries is different depending on the state you live in. Your first step is to make sure you are a registered voter, and your registration is correct, in spelling, address and party affiliation. In some states only voters who have registered with a specific party can participate in that party’s primaries, in other states the participation is open. You might have read about voters of one party participating in the opposing party’s primary in competitive situations to try to get a weaker candidate into the general election. Your participation in a solid majority State is to choose the candidate that more closely reflects your thinking. Recently for Republican voters this usually means MAGA (Trump followers) candidates or the more moderate Republican candidates. The Democrats usual choices are also between the more liberal and moderate Democrats. There are ways to get involved beyond voting, including attending meetings or running to get selected as a delegate. These are ways for you to expand the power of your vote. It takes some work but can mean getting the candidate you like on the ballot of the party that will win in the general election.
Now, what happens if you are part of the minority party in your State or District. Often, you can still participate in the primaries and have an influence on getting the candidate on the ballot that is, from your point of view, the lessor of the two or more evils. Even if you can’t participate in the primaries, you can still stay in contact with your lawmakers and tell them where you stand. No matter what party you are affiliated with, you are still a constituent, and they have a responsibility to pay attention to you. Depending on which committees and subcommittees your lawmakers belong to, they can be influenced to make tweaks to bills that reflect your stance. They know that active constituents, no matter what party they belong to, can influence who is chosen in the primaries.
Voting is a way to get the people that think like you elected, but your vote is made a hundred times more powerful when the lawmaker that best reflects the way you think makes it on the ballot. Quite a few years ago, I lost the chance to vote for the man I thought would make the best Senator in Utah because he never made it through the primaries. I don’t want that to happen again.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to get involved. Whatever the case, don’t forget to vote. At the very least it gives you the right to complain about what your government is or is not doing.