This article is about Understanding Elections and Civic Responsibility.
In this lesson, I am going look at three aspects of what a voter should understand. And these are; getting the most from your vote, organizing civic engagement and Engaging with Candidates and Elected Officials.
These three seek to educate and inform on the role of citizens in the electoral process, and provide guidance on how to exercise civic responsibility and hold candidates and officials accountable – before, during, and after elections.
The right to vote is inseparable from the right to participate in public life. Through voting, you can choose the candidate who will work on the issues you care most about. Voting helps steer policies that affect both the future direction of your country and your daily life. For example, if youth unemployment is an issue that is important to you, you would want to vote for a candidate who has the best plan to create jobs or fund training programs aimed at youth.
During an electoral period, you have a certain set of rights and responsibilities that are true for all free and fair elections. First, you have the right to support or campaign on behalf of any candidate. Second, to vote freely for any candidate or measure of your choosing, and third, to have your vote kept confidential.
Voting is important, but Election Day is only one day. The periods before and after an election are also opportunities for you to advocate for issues that you care about. Before an election, candidates looking to attract votes are often willing to learn more about issues of importance to their constituents. During this period, ask candidates to make a promise, known as a campaign pledge, to pursue a certain policy when they get elected. After an election, hold your representatives accountable for following through on these promises.
For example, let’s say that during a campaign, a candidate promised to reduce youth unemployment. After they are elected, you can form an advocacy group to remind them of this promise. Your advocacy group can pressure elected officials to create and pass laws that would help more young people find jobs. Your group can also track how the government spends public funds to make sure they are being used for their intended purposes, such as youth skills-‐‑building programs. These activities help fight corruption in public spending. They also remind elected officials to pay attention to their constituents’ concerns throughout the whole electoral cycle.
So how can a voter make informed choices about candidates and issues to support? You cannot truly express your political voice unless you are first informed about your voting choices. In deciding how to vote, you should focus on the candidate’s ideas for the future.
Look beyond the personalities of the candidates or who might share your religion, gender, ethnicity or place of origin.
Organizing and attending candidate meetings is one way voters can get information on candidates’ policies before casting their ballots.
As a voter, focus on the issues. Issue-‐‑based voter education assists voters in making decisions based on a specific problem. That helps to ensure that voters focus on how the candidate plans to solve a problem, not their overall ideology. Make sure candidates are aware of your main concerns and why an issue is relevant to your life. Know what matters to you, whether it’s health care, education or unemployment. Focusing on issues helps you understand how voting for a certain candidate, party or policy can lead to change you want to see.
Grassroots Organizing For Civic Engagement
In this lesson we’ll review how grassroots organizing applies to an electoral campaign. We’ll also look at how it can be used for a social movement, like women’s rights or access to quality education.
There are three key elements to any grassroots campaign: leadership, capacity building, and executing your plan.
The most critical component of grassroots organizing is great leadership. Leaders have a plan, with specific goals, a timeline, and clearly defined measures of success. Leaders bring people together. They provide vision and ensure that everyone is working in common purpose and that everyone knows their respective roles. They create infrastructure for their cause by delegating specific tasks to others. They do what they say and give others a chance to be successful.
No movement can succeed without good leaders.
Another critical component of a successful campaign is the ability to create capacity. Creating capacity means to draw more and more people into your campaign, both at the leadership level and developing a list of supporters. We call this “list building.”
Your list of supporters is critical. You must cultivate this list, adding more and more committed supporters each day. They understand your cause and have agreed to be supportive. This agreement can be a verbal communication — a one-on-one meeting or phone conversion — or a written communication via social media, text message, email or letter. Supporters know that they will be asked to do something in the future for your campaign and they will. For instance, vote for a particular candidate on Election Day. You should have contact information for your supporters so you can communicate with them regularly and provide updates. Celebrate good news with your supporters as your campaign progresses, and inform them of any big announcements. You should prepare your supporters so that they know there will be peaks and valleys in your campaign. And they should know that their support, especially in the more difficult times of the campaign, is absolutely critical.
Finally, this is the last aspect of the article and this is Engaging with Candidates and Elected Officials.
In this lesson, we’re going to review how to engage with a candidate or elected official on an issue that matters to you. We’ll discuss the specific steps you should take to prepare for your meeting. We’ll also look at best practices for how you should conduct yourself and your business during the meeting. Ultimately, our goal is to get candidates and elected officials to take the actions you want and need.
Now, advocating for your cause is a job that lasts 12 months a year. But elections are an especially important time because politicians are most focused on earning your support. Many politicians will just make general promises and ask for your vote. Your job is to get them to make specific commitments to help your community, and then follow up, again and again, when the election is done.
Build relationships with every politician and political party you can, so that whoever wins — now and in the future — you will have an open door to the people making decisions.
Before you meet a candidate or official, you have to do your homework. Here are four ways you should prepare.
First, be specific on what your government can do to help the issue you care about. For example: If you care about giving more children access to primary school, the government can raise the education budget to build more schools and hire more teachers.
Second, find out who the specific officials are who need to act and what you want them to do and by when. For example: To raise the education budget by 25 percent, the president and speaker of parliament may need to agree to include this in the budget law for the coming year. So you need to know when the budget law is written and whose input will matter.
Third, identify the key officials who have acted on this issue previously. Know what their record is and what promises they have made. Make sure you know what they have done or not done on this issue so you can build on their efforts. For example: A key official made promises to “make education a priority” in the last election. He also voted two years ago to reduce school fees and raise teachers’ salaries by 10 percent, but hasn’t acted since. If this official gave a reason why, you’ll want to know so you can be ready with a solution or a new request.
Fourth, craft ideas on how the community, including associations, businesses and media, can strengthen the action you think government should take. For example: Construction companies could donate materials to build schools. Community associations can partner with the Ministry of Education to train parents on how to prepare children for school.
After you’ve done your homework — identifying the problem, the key actors and your specific request — you’re ready for the meeting.
Getting a meeting with a candidate or elected official very much depends on circumstances where you are. But here are a few suggestions. You can visit their offices or contact their staff. Use personal connections, like someone who knows the candidate or official. And look for public meetings they’re scheduled to attend and seek them out there. In general, in-person requests tend to be the most successful; phone calls the least.
Prepare your conversation with these five steps. It’s a good idea to practice with a friend or colleague beforehand. You should be clear and direct, but also friendly and natural when you speak.
First, introduce yourself and thank them for meeting with you. Explain how your organization works to serve your community on this issue. Be sure to thank them for their past actions on the issue and be specific.
Second, talk about the problem in your community that you want their help with. Tell a story of someone impacted by this problem. And use facts and figures to show the size of the problem.
Third, propose your solution to the problem, including ideas for immediate actions by the government as well as a longer-term vision. Share your thoughts on how all of society can be mobilized around this issue.
Fourth, make “the ask.” Be specific about what action you want the official to take and by when. Express how their support of this issue will gain them recognition and appreciation in the community. Ask them politely but directly, “Can we count on you?”
Finally, wrap up your meeting with a follow-up discussion or action in mind. No matter what their answer, smile and thank them for their time. Make a specific plan to talk again. And always get contact information, both for them and their staff.
A good way to keep an official engaged on your issue is to invite them or their staff to events that show the impact your organization is having in the community.
Now this may seem like a lot of steps, but you can do them all in five minutes if you need to. The most important thing is to ask them to take a specific action and to give the impression that you are well-organized, friendly and determined to gain their support.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a commitment the first time. The goal is not to solve everything in one conversation, but to build a relationship based on mutual respect. If you are well-informed and well-organized, they will begin depending on you for information and asking you for your advice. So be patient, be specific and be creative. Follow these steps, and you can become a powerful advocate for your community.
Your vote is your right and it determines your future as a good citizen.