With respiratory droplets dancing in the air, the civic duty of voting has become a little bit more complicated. Many folks are pivoting to voting by mail, or gearing up to stand in line at the polls come November 3rd.
If your head hasn’t been underwater for the past 4 years, you know that the 2020 election is a big one. And when we consider the fact that some recent elections have been won by the tiniest margins, what the next 2 to 4 years looks like in this country and your local county may be in your hands.
This thought can be a bit anxiety-inducing. However, as someone with a literal anxiety disorder, I can tell you from experience that the best way to mitigate anxiety is to take control of what you can.
To cast an educated vote, one must understand how voting works, who they’re voting for, and all the associated lingo. Then, it’ll be easier to have confidence in what you’re doing. So let’s grab the bull by the horns and figure out how to vote in the USA during a pandemic!
What we’ll cover
- How voting works in the United States
- Political party basics and how they vote
- Socialism v capitalism refresher
- How to register to vote and cast your ballot
- What to do after you’ve voted
As a democracy, the United States allows its citizens to elect candidates by casting a vote. Most elections in the country operate by popular vote. That means your vote goes directly to who should be your governor, your state senator or your city councillor. However, the president and vice-president are appointed via the electoral college.
Due to the fear of a true popular vote, the founding fathers created the electoral college. Each state, depending on its population, has a certain number of electoral votes. The parties themselves nominate electors, who are trusted to vote for the party’s candidate.
Does my vote still count, even if I don’t vote for a major party candidate?
Fundamentally, yes, your vote still counts. If the question is, will it make a difference, it depends on your local elections, as well as congressional elections. Majority of these operate via popular vote, which may mean that if you want to make your vote “count” in terms of moving the needle, voting for a major party candidate is how you can make it “count”.
If you really feel inclined to make your efforts count even more, consider Crooked’s Adopt A State program, in which you “adopt” a battleground state and help organizers get more folks registered to vote.
Do what you think is right! If you’re not sure yet, here are some basics on the political parties, their factions, and the platforms they run on.
Even though the United States primarily operates on a two-party system, there is a litany of ways to identify within (and outside of) these parties.
It’s easiest to look at the two parties in terms of liberal (Democrats) and conservative (Republicans). In general, liberals identify with the mindset of being more open to new ideas and the adapting world. Conservatives identify as more inclined toward tradition and adhering to the status quo.
Political ideals are often classified as “left” or “right.” For all intents and purposes, liberal ideas are considered “left” and conservative ideas are considered “right.” Centrists and moderates fit, aptly, at the center of this conversation. When ideologies or groups are called “far-left” or “far-right,” that means that they are considered more extreme versions of liberal or conservative views.
Economic identities tend to also play a large role in voting. For example, 70 percent of millennials say they would vote socialist, but the majority of the United State’s policies are based in a capitalist economy. Understanding how a political party identifies economically can give you a good idea of how they will implement bills, policies, or change.
Capitalism emphasizes private ownership of goods, property and business, as well as a free market. In a capitalist world, winner goes to the best businessman. The United States currently operates under a capitalist system.
Socialism is a political ideology in which ownership of goods, property, and business belongs to the people — meaning that the government facilitates this ownership. Socialism vies for equality. It aims to solve the drastic wealth disparities that capitalism creates, as well as give all folks true equal opportunity.
These two systems do not have to operate separately. It’s possible to have a free market alongside strong social services (which derive from socialist values). We find this in places like Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Capitalism can facilitate a strong economy, and socialism can provide a safety net for the disadvantaged.
The Democratic Party is America’s option when it comes to leftist, liberal views. This party is socially and fiscally liberal. The Democratic party prioritizes investing in government infrastructure that aims at equality, by providing social services, decreasing military spending, and making healthcare more accessible. Notable members of the Democratic party are Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and John F. Kennedy.
Congressional progressive caucus
This sect of the Democratic party is important to note because they’re the more liberal branch within the party. You’ll find decidedly farther-left views, like universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, and a lean toward eliminating fossil fuel. Prominent members of this caucus are Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar.
You can view the official Democratic platform on their website here.
Republican party (GOP)
The Republican party is the United States’ option when it comes to right-wing, conservative views. This party is fiscally conservative, vying for low government spending and borrowing. They also tend to be socially conservative. The Republican party leans toward traditional family values, individuality, small government, state’s rights, and low taxes. Notable Republicans are Donald Trump, John McCain, and Ronald Reagan.
You can view the official GOP platform on their website here.
To further aid your choice on each party, look to this chart on how each party leans. This list isn’t all-inclusive and simply gives an overview of the issues. It’s best to continue to do further research in forming your opinions!
|healthcare||for the continuation of private insurance||more open to a single-payer or universal healthcare system|
|immigration||strict enforcement; increased penalties for undocumented immigrants||more leniency on deportation; more pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants|
|military||increase spending||decrease spending and bring troops home|
|abortion||considers abortion morally wrong||pro-choice|
|social services||decrease spending||increase spending|
|government regulation||less regulation of businesses||more regulation of businesses|
|gun control||less gun control||more gun control|
|education||opposes free college||supports free college|
|LGBTQIA rights||often opposes||often supports|
Vote 411 and VoteAmerica are two invaluable resources when it comes to educated voting. These sites guide you through the steps of registering to vote, educating yourself on the various candidates, and allow you to locate your nearest polling station.
If you’re a first-time voter, Vote 411 provides a checklist that takes you through the steps.
If you’re unsure of whether you’re already registered to vote (something I experienced in the 2016 election!) you can visit either CanIVote.org or VoteAmerica to figure out your registration status. Either way, it’s wise to check your status a few months before each election, just to make sure you’re eligible. Each state has different deadlines, which you can find out here.
Once you’re registered to vote, let’s figure out how you’re going to vote.
A poll taken by Global Strategy Group for NextGen America found that more than half of Americans under 35 lack the resources or know-how when it comes to voting by mail. According to the CDC, though, voting by mail is the safest way you can cast your ballot. If you’re part of the demo lacking the know-how, we got you.
It’s good to plan ahead, depending on your state. Different states have different rules, so make sure to check in with your local officials.
Because this situation can be anxiety inducing, it makes sense that you want to put it off. However, the more time you give yourself, the more time you allow for any potential roadblocks that may come along. Plus, it feels good to know that you’ve checked one thing off of your to-do list, especially something as important as this!
Some states allow early voting. Click here to find out the specifications for your state.
All states allow absentee voting, but some have more restrictions than others. To see if you qualify for an absentee ballot, you can check here. Vote.org has a form that will email you an application filled out with the information you provide, so all you have to do is sign, date, and mail it afterward. If you don’t have access to a printer, your local library or office supply store does! It’s a pain to trek to the store, but most of these points have automated systems that allow you to print, or kind folks to help you with the process.
If you’re feeling more anxious about your vote getting to the ballot due to the USPS budget cuts, you might still be able to drop it off! Some states have begun providing ballot drop-off boxes. Otherwise, you might be able to drop off your absentee ballot at your local election office.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may make in-person voting more anxiety-inducing because, the actual work of it should be simple. You go into the booth. You hit some buttons or fill out circles on a paper. There will be people there to assist you with the machines if you do not understand them. Maybe, at the end, you get a sticker.
Depending on what state you’re in, you may need to bring ID. Be sure to look over the guidelines that your state provides, as some states have more strict rules than others.
It’s recommended that you go at off-peak hours, as opposed to during your lunch break, or after you get out of work. Many other folk will be thinking the same way. Going at off-peak hours improves your chances of waiting less time in line, and also lowers your risk of contracting COVID-19.
Here are a few more things to consider:
- If you’re anxious about voter ID laws, bring all the ID that you have. If you need your passport, social security card, and driver’s license to make you feel better, do it! (I do this when going to the DMV, to be honest… they’ll never catch me without my six points of ID.)
- Take the day off if you can. If you can’t, block out as much time if possible for voting. If you can’t do that, and you live in a state that allows it, consider getting an absentee ballot to drop off before election day. The less you feel in a rush, the less loaded this will all feel.
- If you don’t want to brave it alone, go with a family member or someone in your household. They can guide you through the process, or you can work together to figure it out!
- Vote411 will help you personalize your ballot, so you can print out (or write down) your candidates! Let them do all the work for you. This is why we have technology.
Listen, you don’t have to know everything. Here’s a helpful guide on whether or not you can use your phone in a polling place. However, pen and paper is always a good option!
Throughout the process, it’s important to be patient. Because we’re operating during unprecedented circumstances, you may experience poll workers running into more kinks than usual. None of us have done this before. So be nice, be cool, and then head home!
Finding out election results on Election Day is not entirely likely. Due to the pandemic, mail-in voting numbers will likely increase, and mail-in votes take longer to count. Many Americans may not know who the president-elect is until after election day.
So breathe. Sit tight. Maybe start a new series on Netflix, or dive into that book gathering dust on your shelf. Whatever you do, don’t doomscroll or constantly refresh the results every 15 seconds. (Pro tip: Avoid The New York Times Election Needle.) That, my friend, is not going to help you.
It’s important to understand that, after voting, you’ve done all you can. If you’re expecting bad news, it’s best to log off and indulge in something that makes you feel safe. If you know you’re going to experience high anxiety and energy, try exercising or get your CBD ready. Anticipation could be a great emotional fuel but elections aren’t the time to test your mettle.
We all want to help make our country stronger and better. One way to do that is to get out (or mail in!) your vote. However, it’s not the only way we can all contribute. Donating to mutual aid funds, dropping food off to your local pantry, taking to the streets to protest (safely, of course!), or volunteering are other ways we can help our communities.