Midterm elections are right around the corner. Are you ready to vote? An odd question, you think? Have you seen the ballot? There’s probably more to it than you know. Planning to vote straight party line or considering supporting a third party candidate? And how is anyone supposed to know who all those judicial candidates are!? Humanists should pride themselves in being informed voters, but sometimes that can be quite a challenge unless you do some homework.. As a former civics teacher, let me offer some practical help for Election Day, November 4th—along with some humanist thoughts on civic engagement.
Humanists must be champions of civic engagement. Democracy is a cornerstone of humanism. Yes, it’s a competitive endeavor at times (think “survival of the fittest”) and not just between candidates. We are in a battle of political philosophies as well. “Divine right of kings” met its demise with the American Revolution, but other latent political philosophies continually seek purchase within our supposed “beacon of democracy.” Humanists must be on guard for remnants of theocratic rule with persistent attempts by some of our citizens and leaders to infuse religion into public life and our laws. We should also be wary of dynastic rule (Bush v. Clinton in 2016?) and work toward expanding political access. And we must challenge the move toward oligarchy as corporate power increasingly dominates our political processes.
Democracy is our political philosophy of choice as humanists—not because it necessarily promises us the exact laws we want to live by as individuals—but because it is built on the premises of human reason and the common good. For democracy to work effectively, it demands an educated and informed citizenry—about the issues and the candidates. We must model critical thinking skills and an evidence-based assessment of public policy options as the common currency of political engagement. And we must seek honest appraisals of the people running for office.
Democracy and humanism share a commitment to the welfare of all—not just the powerful, the privileged and the chosen. We expect our elected officials to govern for the common good. As citizens, we in turn vote for the best candidate to govern for the general welfare—not for the candidate that will simply privilege my life in some way or another. In today’s political atmosphere of special interests and disproportionate emphasis on individual rights, we have lost sight of the role of government and the duty of our elected officials.
So, before you go into the voting booth, are you well-informed on the political philosophy of the candidates you intend to vote for? Do they support the separation of church and state? Are they open to electoral reforms—such as ranked choice voting that would encourage more robust political access and engagement? Where do they stand on campaign finance reform? And after Election Day is over, are you willing to support or get involved with organizations that are working to revitalize our democracy? Civic engagement does not end at the ballot box.
But who will you see on your ballot? And where can you get some good honest information about the various candidates and judges? Nowadays everyone has access to some wonderful resources through the internet. Minnesota Public Radio provides great election coverage along with their PoliGraph blog about the accuracy of political ads. Go to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State website to get information on candidates and a copy of your sample ballot. Other good sites with similar information are Judgepedia and Ballotpedia. Links are provided to candidate websites if available.
Be an informed citizen and voter. Vote early if getting to the polls will be a challenge on Nov. 4th. Encourage others to vote. Help get out the vote or support a candidate of your choice. There is no better way to put your humanism into practice!