Even if you can’t vote, there are still many ways you can participate in the political issues you find important
In the U.S., we often hear how important it is to vote. This November, millions across the country will be voting in the mid-term elections for Congress, some for the very first time. And while there are some people who choose not to exercise this right, there are also millions who cannot, for one reason another, vote even if they want to. That is why it is so important to note that civic engagement does not begin and end with voting. The esteemed news site Colorlines has created a guide of five ways non-voters can still have a say in public policy.
First, they explain why some American citizens can't vote. For some, it’s because they are incarcerated or have a felony on their record. This group is disproportionately made up of poor African American and Latino males because they are jailed at higher rates than other groups. Those with felonies need clearance to re-instate their voting privileges. Each state’s disenfranchisement laws vary with how it is handled. There are even some cases where they will be barred from voting for life. Further, there are citizens who are considered too young to vote, as being under 18 years of age makes you constitutionally ineligible. And sadly, some citizens have not or do not understand how to register or do not have the means to get to the polling places, either because of restrictive laws, economic considerations, or other factors.
While those issues affect U.S. citizens, it is also important to recognize that there are millions of people living in the United States who cannot vote due to their immigration status, whether it’s because they are undocumented or because they are simply not citizens. Regardless, these million of people are part of communities, are affected by political decisions every day just like anybody else, and there are ways even they can “shape the political process.”
So it is important to know that whether you vote or not this mid-term, there are many ways that your voice can be heard and that you can be part of the change you want. Our lives are affected by political decisions at many levels, from the schools we go to, our homes, our state laws, and our local neighborhoods. You can get involved at city council meetings, school boards, health boards, and zoning committees, as these meetings are usually open to the public.
A few of the ways Colorlines suggests getting involved include:
Get Out the Vote (GOTV) drives, to help those who can vote exercise their right.
Organizing your block or building to advocate for your needs, such as a tenant association to stop spiraling rents or neglectful landlord issues. Civic engagement does not always mean direct communication to elected officials; it can be as immediate as collective action in the place you live.
Hold your own hearings. In other words, hold forums where community members, citizens or not, can express their concerns. These events can even inform people, including voters, of a wider range of issues they may not be aware of, and put a face to the way politics affects lives in the community.
There are also existing organizations that help inform and aid communities, and their activism can create change at many levels. In Wisconsin, groups like Leaders Igniting Transformation, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, and Voceros Por El Voto advocate for vulnerable people, educate people on civic concerns, and generate enthusiasm for relevant issues.
Those are just some ways to remain engaged and stick up for issues you value, whether you can vote or not. For more information, please see Colorlines’ article here: https://www.colorlines.com/articles/cant-vote-here-are-five-ways-you-can-participate