Voting is receiving a lot of attention right now. Between the political climate and the uncertainty and apprehension caused by Covid-19, people are concerned that their vote won’t be counted, or that it will be unsafe to vote.
Voting rates are already too low. In the U.S., less than 56 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots during the 2016 Presidential Election. Voting participation is even lower in non-Presidential years and drops further as you consider elections for local offices. In developed countries, rates range from more than 80 percent in some Scandinavian countries to less than 50 percent in Switzerland.
We should be making it easier – not harder – for people to participate in civic life. These three things are clear to me, and are informed by my years of working at United Way to build stronger communities:
- Our current system leaves far too many out of the political process. Every person in every community should be able to easily vote and make sure their voice is heard when it comes to important, life-affecting decisions. Unacceptable barriers to registering to vote, casting one’s ballot or having it properly counted should be dismantled. At the same time, people must be willing to stay educated on the issues so that we can all benefit from a robust debate.
- Voting is an important step, but not the only one. United Ways around the world advocate for positions that affect our community work, and so should individuals. The right to petition is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Not every country grants such a right. Individuals should contact civic leaders, organize coalitions and peacefully protest. If people stay engaged, they will hold elected leaders accountable beyond Election Day.
- Voting and civic engagement are community engagement. United Way has been working to build stronger communities for more than 130 years. If people are not engaged in the decision-making process, they are less likely to receive the support or attention they need. Voting, or taking part in the Census, is similar to attending a community hearing. Consider your vote to be the capstone of your civic activities.
This year’s U.S. election is taking place amid a pandemic and a fraught political landscape. To help increase voting and civic participation, United Way is taking a number of steps:
- Fighting to increase access to voting. We believe that when more people can participate in elections, our communities are stronger, healthier and more resilient. That’s why United Way is a leading partner of National Voter Registration Day on September 22 and encouraging other organizations to join us in giving workers time off to go vote on Election Day.
- Working to ensure voting is safe. We are committed to doing our part to ensure that all Americans can vote safely in the wake of Covid-19. No one should have to decide whether to exercise their right to vote or be healthy. That’s one reason we are partnering with MTV on Vote Early Day to help Americans learn about their options to vote early.
- Building the political power of underrepresented and marginalized groups: Local United Ways are uniquely positioned to reach individuals who are younger, lower-income, and more racially and ethnically diverse—groups that historically vote at lower rates. United Way is a proud partner with BET and the National Urban League to launch the first-ever National Black Voter Day, focused on increasing Black civic participation.
For over 130 years, United Way has brought together leaders in communities to solve problems in a non-partisan manner. Civic engagement is at the heart of what we do, and today, more than ever, engaging people to vote and stay involved is fundamental to solving our society’s most challenging problems and creating strong, equitable and resilient communities.
That is why United Way is proudly leveraging our assets, partners and investments to ensure voting rates increase and the voting process is safe, accessible and fair for all. Join the fight. Take the first step and register to vote.