By George Cheney and Sally Planalp
To vote, be sure to register before Oct. 13 (the sooner the better). You can vote in person, by mail, or drop off your ballot. Note that all ballots must be received by the County Clerk and Recorder by 7 p.m. on election day; postmarks do not count. Consult the Montezuma County Elections Office website for more details, including polling and drop-off locations near you.
Many commentators consider the upcoming election to be the most consequential one in decades, and some would say the most momentous ever. It is not just the Presidency that is at stake. There are many other important races for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Colorado House, Montezuma County Commission, Board of Education, judges, and various ballot measures. Be sure to do your homework, preview the sample ballot on the Elections Office website, and read a credible unbiased voter guide such as the one sent out by the state, especially for the ballot measures, which can be confusing.
Let’s keep in mind that this is an election and not a choice of a consumer product or a friend. It may be tempting to say, “I don’t really like either one of them – I won’t bother to vote.” But citizens should recognize that if they don’t vote, they are letting other people make critically important decisions, and everyone will live with the consequences. The results may or may not be the ones you anticipated; they may or may not be the ones you want, but you will live with them for the next four years and beyond.
As much as the mainstream media tend to focus on personalities and promote “horse races,” it’s important to remember that candidates have values, policies, and plans that they hope to implement, and these are likely to be in place long after they have served out their terms. Presidents surround themselves with advisors, and they appoint people to important positions — including, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court. For that reason, it is important to check out the party platforms and the candidates’ specific positions on issues via their websites, policy papers, and speeches.
The list of issues at stake is formidable: the economy, healthcare, Supreme Court appointments, coronavirus, violent crime, foreign policy, gun policy, race and ethnic inequality, immigration. (These issues were indicated as “very important” to their vote in the presidential election by at least half of by the registered voters polled, according to the Pew Research Center, August 2020). We would personally add climate change as an absolutely critical, now-or-never issue on which the future of the planet hinges. Of course, each of the major parties emphasize different issues and take different stands on them, so it is important to be well informed and think carefully about your own priorities.
It is unfortunate that so much doubt has been cast on our system this election season. We say this not because we think the system is perfect; in fact, probably all of us can imagine ways to overhaul it. Among the most discussed are: reducing the role of money in politics, ensuring simple registration, orderly voting, and flawless accounting (including paper backups in every case for electronic records). Ranked-choice voting is used in many places and is being considered in more. Of course, for years representatives of both major parties in this country have tried to move away from the antiquated Electoral College to a straight popular vote; however, there are strategic reasons that both parties remain invested in a system where they can focus attention on “battleground states.”
Various projects for election integrity exist in this country and around the world: their jobs are not only to point out procedural and technical deficiencies but also to suggest ways that the conduct of elections can be above reproach—for example, through nonpartisan, third-party administration. This is perhaps the most important way to guarantee fair elections, according to the Electoral Integrity Project, based in Sydney, Australia.
Distrust in the U.S. this election can affect who goes to the polls and what the outcomes are. Widespread distrust can also feed itself, as more and more people give up on a system because it has become tainted in one way or another. Retreat from an imperfect but still valuable system can make things worse and be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We must all try to guarantee that every qualified American citizen is able to vote conveniently, safely, and with confidence that the count will be accurate.
Informed voting is a major part of citizen participation. But there’s another part that is not always given the attention it deserves – citizens’ engagement with one another beyond the polling booth. This part includes homework we should be doing all along to meet our responsibility to be informed citizens and voters. Conversation, dialogue, and true debate are important, in addition to learning about issues and candidates from the media.
It is easy to talk to people with whom we agree and share the same attitudes towards politics and other difficult topics. What is tougher — but in a way, much more important for the vitality of a democracy — is to talk to others who do NOT share our views. This is part of engaging in the democratic process as well as our communities, but it’s easy to avoid because it can be uncomfortable. When we are up to the challenge, though, we can learn more about what others are thinking, the opinions represented in our community, and creative solutions to problems that weren’t even imagined before. In any age when many citizens are retreating to smaller groups or even cliques where everyone agrees with one another and consumes the same media sources, building these kinds of bridges across divides in opinion are all the more important.
Finally, let’s remember that the election is underway. Even though the polls may give you odds of a particular outcome, polls are NOT the same as votes. Some recent votes have come as a surprise, perhaps because voters may have assumed they knew how the vote would turn out and didn’t bother to go to the polls. Elections are not determined by the preferences of the citizenry; they are determined by the preferences of the voters.
It is not our place to tell you how to vote, but we do encourage all eligible voters to weigh in on this election. Not voting is a decision to let other people decide your future; in this way, staying away from the polls IS a kind of passive vote. If you plan ahead, it is very easy to vote–no braving the elements, no waiting in line, no last-minute scramble.
George Cheney and Sally Planalp are residents of Moab (soon to be residents of Cortez) and professors emeriti at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. The opinions expressed here are their own and do not represent the University of Colorado or any other institution.