Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Election Connection: Civic Engagement in an Election Year

It will not be a shock to learn that this is an election year – and not just any election year, a presidential election year. Believe it or not, as irritating as the campaigns can be, they offer tremendous opportunities to learn more about how government works (or doesn't) and to be effectively engaged. Look at it this way: if you don't AT LEAST vote in the elections, you don't get to whine about the outcome.

Following are a few things you can do to get more involved – and make a difference!

• Register to Vote – and Then Vote: The simple process if voting is hands down the most critical thing you can do to make this democracy work. We all think government is broken, but have we ever considered the possibility that citizen apathy might have something to do with that? Only about 50% of registered voters turn out to vote, even in really big election years. There’s plenty of blame to go around, for sure, but it’s kind of a chicken and egg problem. Did government officials become less responsive because we stopped talking to them? Or did we stop talking to them because they stopped responding. Probably a little bit of both, so let’s do something about our side of the issue. Go to – and tell others to do the same!

• Learn About Candidates: There aren’t many excuses for not knowing something about the candidates before you walk in to the voting booth. At a minimum, there’s usually some sort of election guide in your local newspaper (yes, I rely on that frequently when I’m not feeling more proactive). Or, you can go to a website like the League of Women Voters ( or Vote Smart ( to figure out what’s going on with the races in your area. Another great way to get a sense of candidate priorities is to follow them on social media (like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube). And if they’re not on social media that’s probably something you should know, if that sort of thing is important to you.

• Volunteer for Candidates: Once you’ve learned about candidates, if you find one you really like go do some stuff for them. Host a small “house party” and have the candidate or someone from the campaign join you. Promote them on social media networks. Phone bank and doorbell. Talk to your friends. Wave signs. If it’s important to get people in to office that you like, it’s a good idea to help them.

• Get Out the Vote: Elections are won and lost by which side gets their people to the polls. You can help by adding a “remember to vote” line to your e-mail signature, mentioning it on your voice mail, posting something on social media sites or even just saying something to your neighbor. If you’re feeling more adventurous offer to drive people to the polls or make calls. Each of these actions helps get like-minded people to the polls, which only helps your cause.

• Work the Polls: Did you know that you can volunteer at the polls to help check people in, demonstrate the voting machines and hand out those fun “I Voted” stickers? In some jurisdictions they even pay! It’s a great way to get to know people in your community as well as to manage that irritating feeling of “dang it, this line should go faster.” Check with your local board of elections for details.

In following a few of these simple steps you’ll be having more fun during the elections than you thought possible. Hey, it beats sitting in your house throwing things at the television!

Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, is the author of five books on effective advocacy and influence, including The Influence Game. A former Capitol Hill Chief of Staff and lobbyist, she works with a wide range of groups to improve their advocacy efforts. More at

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