This coming Tuesday the people of Michigan have the opportunity to vote. It’s a primary held in the midst of summer, when people are traveling and our attention is often directed elsewhere. Besides this is just a primary – the important votes come in November – right? Well, yes, the November election is extremely important – but all elections ultimately are important. This is especially true of local elections that get the least amount of attention, and when that happens, things can go awry.
As I contemplate the upcoming elections I’m mindful of another reason why people may think that voting is irrelevant. Just look at the political system. It’s broken. I think all agree on that. In a recent listening campaign at our congregation we asked people about the important community issues and political polarization was at the top of the list.
Yes, at almost every level of government, from local to Federal there is polarization and gridlock. In part this is due to the increased role of corporate money that can fuel advertising wars, and much of this non-campaign driven advertising is negative and often misleading.
But ultimately we are the determiners of our politics. We have a choice. We can do our due diligence and focus our attention on electing persons who not only will represent us as individuals, but who will represent the common good of the community. We can also decide to choose representatives and leaders who are open-minded enough to hear the other side. Compromise has become a dirty word, and the only kind of compromise allowed is if you compromise with me – that is you give in. So, it’s important to listen to what the candidates say and we need to give our officials room to maneuver so they can do what is best for all.
There’s another reason why some don’t vote. It’s called voter suppression. You would think that things like voter ID wouldn’t be that big a deal, but there are many people – often young, older, or minorities who don’t have a driver’s license and find it difficult to get an ID. Proponents of such laws warn of voter fraud, but there is little evidence that it occurs with enough frequency to require such measures, and it’s more likely that eligible voters don’t make it to the polls than fraudulent ones vote. And remember, it wasn't that long ago that the Voting Rights Act was passed to deal with efforts to keep people from voting. Do we really want to return to those days?
If we’re a democracy we should do everything we can to get people to the polls. We also need to do everything we can to get good information to people. Enough with ideologically skewed voters guides. Let’s hear candidates speak from the heart on important issues. And then, having been informed – not by emails from friends or even blogs my like my own or partisan-oriented TV channels – but truly informing ourselves, let us all vote.
Finally, since I’m a pastor and I write from a faith perspective, let me say something about the role of faith in voting. We are a religiously pluralistic nation and community. My faith is important to me. It guides my ethical and moral view of the world. Thus, I take seriously the words of Micah 6:8, which says that God desires that we “do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” I also hear the words of Jesus, who says – as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. As I go to the polls, I have to ask myself – how does my vote reflect these important values? I expect that other faith traditions also have similar moral and ethical guidelines that can offer important guidance as they decide how to vote. I cannot and I will not impose my faith on others, but I will not ignore my faith either.
So again, if you have the opportunity to vote, please exercise it with wisdom and grace.