The Word from Lansing Column:
Voting—Overcoming Obstacles to Participation and Why It Matters
Posted by Paul A. Long on
In August, Michigan primary election voters chose the candidates that will appear on the general election ballot in November and decided the fate of a statewide ballot proposal and various local millages and races. According to figures from the Secretary of State, only 1,339,681 voters participated in this process, or just around 18 percent of the registered voters in the State of Michigan.
The American political system relies on the idea of citizens choosing the individuals they feel will represent them best in government. These elected officials make decisions, both on a local and national level, that impact critical issues such as human life, poverty, jobs, marriage, health care, immigration, and education, and it is the job of voters to hold them accountable for the work that they do.
The Catholic Church, as mentioned in the June Word from Lansing column, calls for all to promote the common good and participate in the political realm, guided by a well-formed conscience. In order to facilitate this process, Michigan Catholic Conference would like to share the following information to respond to several common obstacles preventing voter participation.
One of the first major obstacles to participation in elections is voter registration. The good news is that any individual who is a U.S. citizen, Michigan resident, at least eighteen years old, and a resident of the city or township where he or she applies to vote is eligible to register, and the application is fairly quick to prepare. The online version can be found at www.Michigan.gov/sos and can be returned through the mail or in person to an individual’s city, township, or county clerk. If mailed in, additional documentation must be provided regarding identity, such as a driver’s license number or copy of a paycheck stub or utility bill. For more information regarding voter registration, visit www.michigan.gov/elections. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is October 6, a little over a week away.
Another major obstacle to voter participation is that potential voters do not know where to find information on what will be on their ballot. As a result, they often feel that they are not prepared with the research they need to vote and decide it would be better to abstain from the process altogether. There are resources available, however, that allow Michiganders to search the races and issues ahead of time and come to their correct polling place armed with information. For example, the Michigan Secretary of State provides a portal to allow an individual to look up his or her sample ballot, as well as polling location: https://webapps.sos.state.mi.us/mivote/. By using this service, Catholics across the state can take the necessary time to gather information, to form their consciences, and to choose their votes well in advance of November 4.
Additionally, after viewing a sample ballot, it can be helpful to learn about candidate positions and plans by examining campaign websites, statements, and past votes, watching media interviews and debates, and asking questions of candidates at campaign events. Additionally, Michigan Catholic Conference will be posting non-partisan voter education materials throughout the month of October for the benefit of Catholics across the state at www.micatholic.org.
Finally, the third and most difficult obstacle to overcome is that there are individuals who feel that their vote does not matter or that politics is not valuable. But in truth, our voting choices do have consequences. As voters, we have chosen those elected officials who are in positions of power during times of war and conflict, environmental disasters, economic downturns, and daily struggles with poverty, wealth, and decision-making. For example, during the past year, Michigan lawmakers have considered legislation relating to abortion, funding for education and anti-poverty measures, indigent defense, juvenile sentencing, and health care expansion, among others. The Catholic voice must be heard during these discussions and must be accurately reflected in our representative government.
Candidates and issues that we vote for may not always win, but it is important that we work to fulfill our baptismal call to living out our faith daily and promoting the common good, which includes voting. Now that the campaigns are in full swing, the weeks until November 4 will be filled with political ads, literature, and informational events. Make sure that you are able to participate in this important process.