A Catholic’s Election Year To-Do List
Fortnight for Freedom, Day 9.
The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College is taking advantage of the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom to share resources for promoting Catholic Identity in public life. Today’s message: Educate Voters.
As N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, U.S. bishops leader, said, “The public square in the United States is always enriched whenever people approach it when they’re inspired by their deepest held convictions. … And the public square is impoverished when people are coerced to put a piece of duct tape over their mouth, keeping them from bringing their deepest-held convictions to the conversations.”
It’s time to take the duct tape off. Here are recommendations for how an engaged, patriotic Catholic citizen can prepare for Election Day.
1. Own your own message.
Read up on the issues of the day and write down the talking points that are most powerful to you, the ones you can “own.” Feel free to borrow the phraseology of others, but don’t just parrot catch phrases. Create your own message. There are great materials on abortion and religious liberty. Other groups, such as CatholicVote.org also offers nonpartisan issue papers by various Catholic experts.
2. Deliver your message to Washington.
Tell the people who represent you in Congress what you are thinking. You can arrange a formal meeting with your representative and two senators in their home offices or Washington, D.C., offices. You can communicate with your representative and two senators at town meetings. Or you can call or write to them. Your contact will be counted. To find out who they are and to get their contact information, type your zip code into WhoIsMyRepresentative.com.
3. Deliver your message in the media.
Once you have your “two cents” ready, there are plenty of places to share it. Letters to the editor of newspapers can still be effective. But newspapers also often have comments sections after online articles. Your message will become as much a part of that page as the article itself, if you comment. Blogs are popular places to share comments — but readers there have often already made up their minds. Via Facebook or e-mail, you can become your own content provider, reaching many people.
4. If your pastor wants to help, offer opportunities.
If you have a warm relationship with your pastor, ask him what voter education materials you can share at Church. Things to share: Voter registration posters, nonpartisan issue papers, contact information for members of Congress, even voter guides explaining candidates’ stands, if they are available. If your pastor declines, no problem. That’s entirely his prerogative.
This Fall, as Election Day approaches, there are still things you can do.
1. Register voters.
You can’t vote if you don’t register. Neither can the members of your Bible study or your homeschool group or the friends you see at Mass. You can remind them … or churches and groups of all kinds can run nonpartisan registration campaigns without fear of crossing any legal lines
2. Vote early.
In many states, there are ways to vote before Election Day. If you can do that, why not? It decreases the chances that something unexpected will prevent you from getting to the polls — and frees up time on Election Day to help others vote. Also, if you or someone you know will be traveling on Election Day or unable to leave their house, remind them to request an absentee ballot right away.
3. Help others vote.
You may have gotten “Remember to vote!” e-mails. I have. Along with wearing your “I Voted” sticker, you can send an e-mail or update your Facebook status to remind others to vote. Or, if you can spend even more time on it, think of people who will have a hard time voting — moms with small children, the elderly, those without a car — and offer to watch their children or help them get to the polls if need be.
4. Consider being a poll watcher.
Your local board of elections can send you information about volunteering for poll-watching duty. They need people to be present present at polling places on Election Day to make sure everything is on the up and up.
In our Catholic Hall of Fame entry on Politicians, you can trace the tale of how Catholics grew from a tiny (but active) minority in America to a mainstream player in the political process.
Catholics’ full participation in the political life of America didn’t happen by accident. It was something we worked hard to achieve. Today, when the U.S. bishops are warning that Catholics face new threats to religious liberty in unprecedented ways, it is time to be as politically active as our forbears were.