This is a bit late and irrelevant at this point, but several students in AAIV came to me feeling ill-equipped on how to vote so I decided to write a simple, no-nonsense and (mostly) non-partisan guide on how I hope typical InterVarsity students or alumni would go about voting.
It’s too late for this election cycle (oops) but hopefully this will provide some food for thought for the future.
Vote the Issues
How do you believe the US should go about in its foreign and military policy? How about taxes and minimum wage? How about health care and immigration? How about gay marriage, abortion, or climate change? Usually each candidate lists on their website what they believe on each issue, or even simpler there are some great websites like Project Vote Smart and iSideWith.com to help you figure out which candidates you are most compatible with ideologically.
Don’t Vote the Issues
I’ll let you in on a dirty secret: very few politicians care about the issues, especially the most controversial ones. Republican politicians love stoking emotions among their constituents on abortion and gay marriage. Democratic politicians, lately, love stoking emotions among their constituents on immigration and union-busting. Politicians also love to tout their records on economic performance or job growth while their opponents slam them, even though in the short term, they have very little impact or control on these except through pork-barrel spending. However, politicians tend to pick their positions based on national mood or what they feel is most appealing to their voter-base. Elections are also seen as signs of approval or disapproval for sitting (incumbent) politicians. For example, Republican victories in this mid-term election cycle are seen as a loss for Obama and his ability to implement policies or get laws passed. Similarly, Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin will be seen as a vote-of-confidence for him to continue enacting some of his laws and policies. Be sure to also consider each candidate’s record, experience, and tone in addition to whether or not you agree with them on “the issues.”
Vote Your Convictions but Respect Those Who Don’t Share Them or Disagree on Their Implementation
There is a clear Biblical mandate to advocate and care for the poor, oppressed, foreigner, etc. Concern for bio-ethics and the environment also have strong Biblical bases and I also believe the Bible defines marriage. However, our own convictions on these issues still allow a lot of room for disagreement on whether and how our government should uphold, implement, or enforce them and how we as Christians ought to live faithfully among those who don’t always agree with us. (For the record, I’m convinced it’s a myth that the US is or ever was a “Christian nation,” though there were certainly and have been throughout its history Christian principles involved in its founding and leadership — I’m happy to have this conversation at a later time).
Yes, the system is broken and rewards partisanship; politicians are manipulative and self-serving; the current tone among politicians and in Washington is utterly nauseating. However, voter turnout — specifically, the demographics and beliefs of those who turn out — affect what politicians consider important. Christians are called submit “for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13), and in the US today that is a democratic system which, though imperfect, has worked for a few hundred years and has upheld the rule of law, freedom of worship, ideas, and a relatively prosperous economy. That means making our voices heard through voting. It may be too late this time around for some folks, but it’s certainly not too late to make a lifelong habit and discipline of exercising this privilege and doing so responsibly.
It’s also never too late to try to stay informed. Local news, papers, and websites (like madison.com) are a great place to start and I also highly recommend regularly reading or at least browsing The Economist and either the New York Times or Washington Post.