Citizenship: Answers to Questions You Always Had About Influencing the Political Process
Okay, so you have come to realize it is time to exercise your right as a citizen and a voter—but are unsure about so many things surrounding the political process. Here’s a primer that is sure to empower your citizenship game, ahead of the state General Election on November 6th, that will decide, amongst other offices, the next Governor of Georgia.
What are the pros and cons of being a registered Democrat or Republican voter, versus being an Independent?
Georgia has open primaries, which means that unlike in other states, voters here don’t have to register with a specific political party. For every primary election (the election that narrows down the number of candidates for each party), voters may request either a Democratic, Republican, or Nonpartisan ballot. All the non-partisan races (judges, school board, etc.) appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.
When you select a specific party’s ballot in a primary election, you must vote with the same party’s ballot for the primary runoff election. So for example, if you vote for a Republican candidate in the primary election, and there is a runoff election between the two Republican candidates who received the most votes, you must vote on a Republican ballot in the runoff election. You can’t change your mind and request a Democratic ballot.
In the General Election, voters can vote for any person in any race, regardless of the kind of ballot they picked for the primary election. In other words, if a voter picks a Republican ballot in the primary, she can then chose to vote for Democrats in the general election. Each race on your ballot is tallied separately, so voters may choose Democrats in some races, and Republicans or third-party candidates in others.
What are the pros and cons of early voting?
• Early voting (EV) is in-person voting ahead of Election Day. A voter can pick a day and time that’s most convenient for them and avoid long lines on Election Day. For this upcoming election in Georgia, early voting starts on October 15 and goes until November. Depending on which county you live in, you’ll have a few weekend voting days, too. During EV, you can go to any polling location in your county and cast your ballot.
• If there are any irregularities or you are turned away, you have time to address the issue and vote at a later date.
• A little known fact is that if you vote early, most campaigns will take you off their outreach list so you won’t get any more phone calls to your home and canvassers at your door.
• EV also eliminates the chance of missing voting on actual election day, if you end up having some emergency that prevents you from taking time to go out and vote.
If damaging information comes out about a candidate after you have cast your early vote, or if a candidate you voted for drops out of the race before Election Day, you can’t go back and change your vote.
What is absentee voting?
Absentee (or mail-in) voting is the practice of requesting a ballot to be mailed to the voter’s address. The voter fills it out at home and mails it back before Election Day. Anyone can request a mail-in ballot and a voter is not required to give any reason for requesting one. A voter may also request a mail-in ballot for a family member. This is popular among parents who have students attending college. Voters can also request the ballot and opt for it to be sent to their children’s current residence. To request a ballot, search (Your County) Absentee Voting to find instructions on how to fill out and send a request.
Where is a step by step guide on how to vote this November?
1. Go to www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, log in using your information and check your registration status. If you research the candidates and the initiatives ahead of time, voting will be a much easier and far less intimidating process on Election Day. Remember: For those who are not yet registered to vote, the voter registration deadline for the election is October 9! 2. Look up your sample ballot, either at the above website address, or at Ballotpedia.org. Both websites are great tools to familiarize yourself with candidates and their stances ahead of Election Day. You are not allowed to have a phone while voting but you can write down all the candidates of your choice on a sheet of paper and use it for reference while voting. 3. Look up your precinct on the same website. Georgia requires a photo ID to vote, so remember to bring a driver’s license or passport. If you have questions or need help with voting, call Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote’s voter hotline at 1-888-274-8683 for help in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali.
Where are one’s monetary political contributions most effective—with national organizations such as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC), individual candidates,
Political Action Committees (PACs), or
activist organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense or the NRA? Please list the pros and cons of contribution in each case.
Tier 1- Money donated to campaigns have the most direct impact. Give to candidates you believe in, who represent you. Depending on the race, there is a legal limit on how much you can contribute, so please be aware of this.
Tier 2- PACs and unions are next on the list, but be sure to research them first. These organizations may invest in resources for primary elections. Keep in mind it’s possible that your money may end up going toward a campaign you didn’t support in a primary. Because your donations to these organizations are not public information, your name and address won’t show up on these organizations’ financial disclosures. In some cases, you may be able to give un-limited contributions.
Tier 3- Your donations to larger national organizations, like the DNC and RNC, won’t likely go as far, as they have much larger overhead costs.
Is calling or writing to your local representative on proposed legislation really effective? I have called at times, only to be told that while they will record my call, the senator had already made up his mind against my position. Is it purely a numbers game?
Calling representatives is more effective locally than nationally. Politics is less partisan on the state and municipal level and constituent calls allow a legislator to get a temperature on an issue. The unfortunate reality is that constituent concerns and feedback matter far more during election years.
Are online petitions worth the trouble? Are there any demonstrable cases where they may have made a difference?
Online petitions may not have direct impact on a specific policy but they are great for building infrastructure for organizations as well as enthusiasm for a cause. Some studies suggest that people who sign petitions are more likely to become first-time voters.
Does grassroots activism really help, or does it end up being mostly theatrics?
It depends. Knocking on doors, making phone calls, writing to neighbors to support a candidate or ballot initiative helps tremendously. In many races, direct communication has contributed greatly to a candidate’s win. Protests and rallies are good for building community and networking, but don’t have as direct an effect.
How can one be politically effective on social media without being branded or “unfriended” as a partisan? Or is it just the price you have to be willing to pay to enjoy a government of your choice and vision?
Talk about issues you care about, events you’re going to, and candidates you support. Avoid name-calling and demonizing people who don’t agree with you. Know that some people will still consider political differences to be moral differences, and in some cases they are.
What are some other ways of influencing politics?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Find a social cause or statewide/municipal issue that interests you and join organizations that cater to them. A deep understanding of an issue often translates into a greater understanding of how a policy affects it.
The three major things that campaigns need to succeed are money, people, and time. If you support a candidate, reach out to their campaign staff and offer to host a fundraiser or a meet and greet, or volunteer for them.
Pallavi Purkayastha is a Political Strategist and State Capitol legislative aide. She has been working on voter outreach for campaigns since 2014, and is determined to increase voter turnout among Asian Americans in the upcoming elections.
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