us politics

Using Twitter to contact (and keep up with) your representatives

This is a US-centric post, but some of it probably applies outside the US as well.

Contacting politicians isn’t just about using the phone to make calls. Twitter can *also* be a really useful way to talk to elected officials.

Politicians who have Twitter feeds pay attention to them. They use them to market themselves to constituents, and to gather information about what constituents care about. The way constituents interact with politicians on Twitter can make a real difference.

This is a post explaining some of how I interact with politicians on Twitter. There are a lot of things, and some may seem overwhelming. Don’t feel like you have to do everything — *anything* you do will help, even if it’s only occasional.

I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep up with and interact with politicians if I make Twitter lists of them. Here’s a way to keep up with your representatives on Twitter:


Step one: Make a Twitter list called “Representatives”. Twitter has instructions for making Twitter lists here.

  • Step two: Find out who your senators and representatives are:
  • You have one Representative in the House. Your state is divided up into congressional districts, and you are represented by the person whose district you live in. Find out who they are here.
  • Your state has two Senators. They both represent you. Find out who they are here.

Step three: Find your senators and representatives on Twitter:

  • Generally, the fastest way to do this is to search for “[their name] Twitter”
  • Senators and congresspeople also often have their Twitter handle on their page.
  • (You likely also have local and state level politicians who are on Twitter, but don’t get bogged down trying to find them if it’s taking a while. There will be more information about finding them in a subsequent post.)

Step four: Add your representatives and senators to your Twitter list:

  • Now that you have a Twitter list, it’s easier to check up on what your representatives are saying. 
  • It’s also easier to remember who they are.
  • This will be useful in a lot of situations.

Step five: Ready the block button:

  • If you’re interacting with politicians on Twitter, you may attract unwanted attention from deplorables, Nazis, misogynists, and other cruel people. 
  • If you do, remember that you don’t have to talk to them. If people tweet obnoxious things at you, err on the side of blocking them.
  • You may also want to subscribe to an automated block list in order to block known cruel people. 
  • (I subscribe to Nazi Blocker

Now that you have a Twitter list of your representatives, here are some things you can do with it:

Check your “Representatives” list, and watch what your representatives are doing:

  • When you open your list, you will see all your representatives. 
  • This can be a fast way to keep track of all of them.
  • Even if you don’t interact directly, or don’t often interact directly, knowing what’s going on can be helpful.

Reward and boost tweets you like:

  • When politicians say things you agree with, like and/or retweet them.
  • You can also reply and say something like “Thank you, I’m glad you’re representing me”.
  • Politicians use Twitter to market themselves to constituents, so it’s useful to tell them when you see something you like.
  • It’s also useful to show *other people* who follow you that a politician is doing something good.

Express disapproval of tweets you *don’t* like:

  • When politicians post bad things, it’s useful to tell them that they’re upsetting constituents.
  • Eg, you can reply saying something like “I’m a constituent, and I’m appalled that you’d do/say that”.

Reply with a comment:

  • You can also reply with comments that say more specific things than “thank you” or “don’t do that”.
  • It helps to say something personal that establishes 1) that you’re a constituent, and 2) that this will have a real effect on you.
  • Politicians respond well to stories. 
  • Eg: “I’m a North Carolina small business owner, and this healthcare bill would damage my business”
  • Or: “As a public school teacher in [your town], I’m appalled that children are at risk of being deported as school”

Retweet with a comment:

  • You can also retweet with a comment. If you do it that way, other people will see it. 
  • One useful thing to do can be to tag your other representatives.
  • Eg: say, your senator @SenatorExample tweets about supporting Good Bill [S. Example Number].
  • You can retweet it with a comment “Thank you @ExampleSenator. @OtherSenatorFromMyState @ExampleRepresentative, do you support it too?”
  • You can also do that with bills that other people’s senators/representatives support. (I also maintain a list of politicians I like in order to do this.)

You can also initiate contact yourself. Use your Twitter list to remind yourself who your representatives are/what their Twitter handles are, and then you can do these things:

When you get an action alert asking you to call your representatives, you can also tweet to them about the issue:

  • Generally speaking, phone scripts are too long for Twitter — but you can still use them to make tweets!
  • The most important part is the specific thing you’re asking them to do.
  • Usually, this will be either asking them to vote for a bill, cosponsor a bill, or vote against a bill.
  • Sometimes it will be other things, eg: Asking senators to call for a Senate hearing on white supremacist violence.
  • Point being, action alerts will contain a specific ask, and your tweet should too: 
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative I’m a constituent from [Your Town], and I’m asking you to vote against Example Terrible Bill”.
  • You can also add more details about who you are/why you oppose the bill.
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative Everyone deserves the right to vote. Please vote against the Terrible Voter Suppression Act.”
  • Eg: “@ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative the Stop Abuses of Power Act would make us safer in [your town]. Please support it”.

Tell your representatives stories about issues you care about:

  • Politicians tend to respond well to stories — and they can also sometimes use stories in speeches and negotiations. 
  • Tweet a story about who you are, and why you care about the issue:
  • Eg: “I’m disabled. Civil rights protections made it possible for me to go to school in [your town].”
  • Eg: “My grandmother came to this country as an immigrant. Please don’t deport other people’s grandmothers”.
  • Eg: “Violent white supremacists marched through my town. I’m scared. What are you doing about it?”
  • (If you have relevant pictures, it can be helpful to include them.).

Twitter can also be very useful at protests (whether or not you’re there in person):

Tweet about protests and tag your representatives:

  • These days, most protests have hashtags. Include the protest hashtag in your tweet. 
  • If you’re there, mention that you’re there:
  • Tweet something like “@ExampleSenator, I’m at #IStandWithPP asking you not to defund Planned Parenthood”.
  • You can also tweet things speakers are saying at the protest.
  • Check what others are saying in the protest hashtags. You can also retweet those, and tag your representatives saying you agree.

Tweet pictures of protest signs and tag your representatives:

  • Tweeting close-up pictures of people with protest signs can be an effective way to show representatives that you and others care about this issue.
  • Ask permission before taking pictures of people at protests — some people may be in danger if their picture is seen.
  • When you ask “May I take a picture of your sign to tweet at representatives?”, most people will say yes.
  • (But some people may ask that you leave their face out of the picture. *Always* respect this boundary. If someone doesn’t want their face in a picture, *leave their face out*).
  • Remember to include the context when you tweet pictures, and make a specific ask.
  • Eg: “We’re at #ProtestHashtag, asking you to protect our care by voting against Example Terrible Bill Act. @ExampleSenator @ExampleSenator2 @ExampleRepresenative” 
  • Some people may ask you to also tag *their* representatives. In which case you can say “@ExampleSenator, one of your constituents asked me to share her sign with you. Please vote against Example Terrible Bill Act.”
  • This can show politicians that a protest is happening, remind them that the people protesting are real people and not just generic “protestors”, and show them that some protestors are constituents.

If you can’t go to a protest yourself, you can still use Twitter to draw your representatives’ attention to the protest by:

  • Tweeting in the protest hashtag yourself, and tagging your representatives.
  • Watching the protest hashtag, retweeting things you agree with, and tagging your representatives in the retweet.
  • It’s especially helpful to retweet pictures. Eg:
  • Say you see a sign that says “Kill the bill, don’t kill us” in #HealthcareProtest. 
  • You can retweet that, and add “@ExampleSenator Don’t kill me either. Vote against #AHCA and anything else that would cut Medicaid”.

It’s also useful to tweet/retweet information about where a protest is happening and why it’s happening. Whether or not you’re there, tweeting about it can help other people to go and/or boost the protest’s message.

Tl;dr Twitter can be a really useful way to interact with elected officials. Scroll up for some examples of ways to do it.

Protecting your right to vote in the US

If you live in the United States, exercising your right to vote can be challenging, especially if you live in the South. This is likely to get worse, because some Voting Rights Act protections were recently struck down.

Things to know: 

If you are in line when the polls close, you have the right to vote. 

  • Stay in line. Do not leave without voting. 
  • (If you leave after the polls close, you probably won’t be able to get back in line.)

In most states, you need to register in order to vote:

  • Most states require you to register in advance. 
  • (Some states require you to register *months* in advance).
  • Some states allow same-day registration.
  • Some states allow same-day registration for presidential elections only.
  • You can check registration requirements on vote.org. 

Some states require voters to show ID:

  • Some states require IDs for registration.
  • Some states require you to show ID every time you vote.
  • Some states require first-time voters to show ID.
  • In most states, a lot of different things count as ID. 
  • (Eg: In some states, you can use a utility bill.)
  • Know in advance whether your state requires ID, and what kind of ID it requires.
  • If you have ID, bring it even if you’re not sure it’s required.
  • voteriders.org (and their hotline 844-338-8743) has good information on voter ID requirements.

Some states allow you to vote early:

  • If you can vote early, it’s a good idea to do so.
  • That way, if there’s a problem, you’re more likely to be able to solve it in time to vote.

You have the right to cast a provisional ballot if your eligibility to vote is questioned:

  • If you’re registered to vote but don’t appear on the polls at your polling place, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot.
  • If you don’t have ID, or your ID is not accepted, you have the right to cast a provisional ballot.
  • You may have to do something afterwards, like show ID to the elections office.
  • That said, it’s better to cast a regular ballot, because provisional ballots are frequently invalidated. 
  • If your right to vote is challenged, try to get help before casting a provisional ballot. 
  • http://www.866ourvote.org/issues/provisional-balloting

If your right to vote is challenged, there are people who can help:

  • The Election Protection Hotline 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
  • In major elections, Election Protection often also has in-person legal volunteers at the polls to help people protect their voting rights.
  • Your state probably has a voting rights organization, and you can probably find it by googling “voting rights [your state]”.
  • The candidate that you want to vote for may have a voting rights hotline on election day. 
  • If you face disability-related voting discrimination, your best bet might be your state’s disability rights organization, which you can often find by googling “disability rights [your state]” or “disability voting [your state]”.

If reading the news is dragging you down into despair

There is a lot of awful news right now. In times like these, it’s important to have strategies for avoiding despair.

One strategy I’ve seen discussed a lot is limiting your exposure to the news. For instance, some people have decided not to read the news at night. This can be a really good strategy for some people — but it doesn’t work well for everyone.

If you keep telling yourself “I should really read the news less”, then reading the news constantly anyway, it may be that you need a different strategy.

For some people, the way to avoid despair involves reading the news *more*, not less. When the headlines are horrifying, it can make it seems like the world is made of horrors. It can take a lot more digging to find out that it is possible to fight the horrors. It can take a lot more digging to learn that some things are good, and that progress is still possible.

For instance, if you’re reading a terrifying news article about vote suppression in the South, find out which organizations are fighting for voting rights. Learn the stories of people who have fought for their right to vote and won. Learn specifics about the battles being fought now, and the people who are fighting them. Knowing this kind of context can help, a lot.

More generally: When you find that despair-inducing news is dragging you down, seek out context that goes beyond the horrors. The horrors are real, and so is everything else.

If all the stories you read are about horrifying policies, opposition can seem imaginary. Make sure you read enough about the opposition to understand that it’s real.

Similarly, wins are as real as losses. If all the stories you read are about losing, winning will seem imaginary. Make sure you also read enough about wins to understand that winning is a real thing.

(It also helps to take partial victories or near-victories seriously.)

Tl;dr When you’re reading a lot of news and feeling a lot of despair, sometimes the solution is to read the news less — and sometimes the solution is to read *more* of the news. When you only read stories about evil, good can seem imaginary. If you also seek out stories about people who fight evil, and about wins as well as losses, it can make it much more clear that goodness exists. For some people, that is the best strategy for avoiding despair in times when a lot of the news is horrifying.

Your election t-shirt may not be allowed inside the polls

Campaigning is not allowed inside polling places, or a certain distance from them. Once you are inside your polling place, no one is allowed to try to influence your vote — and you’re not allowed to try to influence anyone else’s vote inside the polling place either. This is a really strict rule, and it probably means that you won’t be allowed to wear a shirt or button with your candidate’s name/logo on it inside the polls.

The rules against campaigning inside a polling place are really strict in order to protect voters from intimidation. Voting is private, polls are private places, and there are a lot of rules and laws in place to protect them. You also can’t do things like pass out flyers, hold up signs, or answer questions about candidates inside the polls. Generally speaking, anything with a candidate or party’s name visible is likely to be seen as campaigning — including a button or t-shirt that you are wearing. (Or a candidate’s logo, or anything else obviously partisan.)  

Since people wear election shirts/buttons as a way to campaign for their candidates, they’re generally not allowed inside the polls. So, if you wear a candidate shirt/button to the polls on election day, you will most likely be asked to take it off or cover it up. If you’re planning to wear a pin, you can put it in your pocket or pin it to the inside of your shirt while you’re inside the polls. If you’re planning to wear a campaign t-shirt, bring something with you to cover it up with. The exact rules vary state-by-state, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

tl;dr Campaigning is not allowed inside polling places. Wearing a t-shirt with a candidate’s name or party’s name visible is likely to be considered campaigning, just like if you were holding up a sign for your candidate. If you’re planning to wear a campaign t-shirt or button on election day, be prepared to take it off or cover it up while you are actually voting.

More on calling the Election Protection Hotline for help with voting rights

Note: I am not affiliated with Election Protection. I just think they’re awesome and I want to make sure that people know about them.

If someone tells you that you can’t vote, or you run into other barriers, consider calling the Election Protection Hotline. 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683). They’re a hotline run by lawyers who really, really care about making sure that everyone has the right to vote. (Hours and information about partner hotlines in additional languages at this link.) They’re nonpartisan; they don’t care which candidate you vote for, they just want to protect your right to vote. 

They can help you figure out what to do if your polling place isn’t accessible, or if it runs out of ballots, if someone tries to intimidate you (or someone else), or if someone tells you that you don’t have the right ID, or other things like that. If you’re not sure whether the law is being followed at your polling place, or you’re not sure who is an official and who isn’t, Election Protection can help. And just, generally speaking, they care about your voting rights, they know what they’re talking about, and they will tell you the truth.

The problem with this is, the only way to talk to them is on the phone, and talking on the phone is really hard for a lot of people. So, in case it helps, here’s some information about what it’s like to call them, and some scripts you might use if you’re having trouble figuring out how to communicate. (You don’t *have* to use these scripts; don’t let it be a barrier to calling for help if you need help. They’re offered in case it is helpful; these are not rules.):

When you call the Election Protection Hotline, they will want to know where you are. This is because the laws are different in different states:

  • Their phone system guesses which state you are calling from based on your area code, and asks you to confirm. 
  • If you say you’re in a different area, the system will ask you to enter your state’s two-letter abbreviation on your phone’s dial pad. 
  • (For instance, North Carolina is NC, which is 62 on a dial pad).
  • (If you’re not sure what your state’s abbreviation is, Wikipedia has a list https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_abbreviations)
  • (It also may be helpful to know which county you’re in, because counties sometimes have their own rules. If you’re not sure, you can check online here. http://publicrecords.onlinesearches.com/zip-code-county.php But if you’re not sure, call anyway.)

Once you tell the phone system where you are calling from, the phone system will transfer you to a volunteer:

  • (If no one is immediately available, you might get an answering machine that says you’re calling after hours. If that happens during hours the hotline is open, just try calling back.)
  • The volunteer will ask for your phone number in case you get disconnected, and may also ask for your name.
  • Then they will want to know what’s going on, and what you need help with:

If you haven’t voted yet and you’re trying to get information you need in order to vote:

  • You can say something like “I’m trying to make a voting plan, and I have a question about voting in my area”.
  • For instance “I’m preparing to go vote, and I’m not sure whether I have the right ID. Can you help me figure out if any of the things I have are accepted as IDs where I vote?”
  • Or “I’m not sure where my polling place is.” 
  • Or “I just got out of prison for a felony. Can I vote?” 

If you are at the polls and having a problem right now:

  • You might want to say something along the lines of “I’m at my polling place trying to vote, and I’m having a problem”. 
  • For instance, “I’m at my polling place, and they just told me that I’m not on the list and can’t vote. What should I do?”
  • Or “I’m in line waiting to vote, and people who say that they are poll monitors keep asking to see my ID. How do I get them to leave me alone?”
  • Or “I can’t get into my polling place because it’s inaccessible, so I need curbside voting. I can’t get anyone to acknowledge me. How can I get them to give me a ballot?” 
  • Or “I’m in line waiting to vote. Someone is approaching voters in line and speaking to them in a language I don’t understand. Some people are leaving right after this person talks to them. Is this intimidation?”
  • Or “I’m at my polling place, and I just found some Spanish language flyers that say that Election Day is tomorrow instead of today.”

If you’re reporting a problem that happened earlier or on another day, 

  • You can say something like “I saw something during Early Voting…” or “When I voted this morning…”.
  • For instance: “When I voted during Early Voting last week, some people were turned away because they didn’t have IDs. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I’ve heard since then that our state doesn’t actually require IDs for voting. What’s going on?”
  • Or “When I voted this morning, the accessible voting machine wasn’t set up, and no one there knew how to use it. I didn’t have time to come back, so I had someone assist me. Did the polling place break the law?” 
  • Or “I cast a provisional ballot. Do I need to do anything to make sure that my vote will be counted?”

And so on. Once they know what the problem is, they will talk to you about next steps. (This page has stories about issues they’ve recorded and/or responded to and their Twitter feed and Facebook page also have stories/examples.)

“Nasty woman” shirts probably aren’t allowed in the polls

I wrote a post about why election shirt are usually not allowed into the polling places on election day. 

@knittedintoacorner reblogged and asked:

Do you think this goes for “nasty woman” T shirts?

So, here’s what I think: Shirts that have slogans on them associated with a candidate probably won’t be allowed into the polls either. If the election official at your polling place sees that slogan and recognizes it as associated with one of the candidates, they will most likely ask you to take it off, turn it inside out, or cover it up. They’re somewhat more likely to be allowed than shirts/buttons with a candidate’s actual name on them, but I’d still be prepared to cover them up.

So if you want to wear a shirt that says something like “nasty woman”, “I’m with her”, “Stronger Together”, “Make America great again”, “drain the swamp” or whatever else, be prepared to cover it up when you’re in the actual polls. If the slogan on your shirt makes it obvious who you are voting for (or against), wearing it inside the polls is likely to be interpreted as campaigning.

Voting isn’t like a test in school

timothymcmackin said:

You asked what we wanted to share about voting rights: It took me a couple elections before I learned that voting was not like a test in school. You can plan ahead, look up a sample ballot, and bring selections on paper. You don’t have to memorize your choices. But some places in the USA don’t allow electronic devices in the polling place, so use paper for the notes.

What do you want voters to know about voting in your state?

a-ship-of-meat-and-bone:

realsocialskills:

So, speaking of voting — it’s different in every state.

And a lot of states have strange or counterintuitive rules. Not all of the rules are well know 

Workers at the polls may not know all of the rules, or may tell voters misleading things. It’s very important to know your rights.

I only know about a couple of states. I suspect that a lot of y’all know things that I don’t.

So, what do you want voters to know about how voting works in your state? What do people need to know in order to effectively exercise their right to vote?

a-ship-of-meat-and-bone said:

In Virginia you can vote early! Here’s the list of reasons: http://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/absentee-voting/

Note that working outside of your city or county is one of them!

Question about voting in New York

I’m trying to find out something about voting in NY — for some reason, no one seems to know. So I’m hoping one of y’all does.

New York has had issues with registered voters not being on the lists at the polling places. When your name isn’t on the list, you can either cast an affidavit ballot, or you can go get a court order allowing you to vote normally. 

I wasn’t on the list when I went to vote in the primary election, even though I was registered. (And I had my voter registration card with me). I cast an affidavit ballot. My vote ended up not counting, because I filled out the form incorrectly.

I want to make sure that my vote counts in the general election. (And that everyone else’s does too.) So, if I am not on the polls on election day, I want to get a court order this time around. But I don’t how how to do that — and no one else I’ve asked seems to know either.

If someone is a registered voter in NY, but not on the list at their polling place on election day, they have the right to get a court order allowing them to vote. Does anyone know how one goes about doing this?`

Voting is especially important when the system is unfair

Politicians can, and do, sometimes manipulate the system in ways that makes elections somewhat unfair. That only goes so far. They can’t interfere with the secrecy of the ballot, and they can’t stuff the ballot boxes. They can’t actually rig elections.

What they can sometimes do is draw electoral districts favorable to them, or make it harder for groups likely to vote against them to vote. All of this unfairness can be defeated with high voter turnout.

Unfairness doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win. Unfairness means that it’s really, really important to vote.

In order to defeat unfairness, it’s important to know the laws in your state. It’s important to know which barriers may be in place to make it harder to vote, and how to insist on your right to vote anyway. And to make sure that others know how to insist on their rights. Unfair elections are not rigged elections. It is possible to vote in a way that matters.

For instance, many states have laws requiring voters to show identification. In most states, this doesn’t have to be a state-issued ID. Don’t assume that you can’t vote if you don’t have an ID. You can find out what the specific requirements are in your state, and make sure that others know them. It’s likely that you and others have, or can get, a form of ID that counts. Vote 411 has information about ID requirements, and other potential barriers. You can also find out about ID requirements from your state’s board of elections website.

Tl;dr Some elections are somewhat unfair, but they’re not rigged. One of the most common ways elections are made unfair is by tricking eligible voters out of voting. The more unfair an election is, the more important it is to exercise your right to vote — and to support others in exercising theirs.

Voting when you don’t want to vote for either candidate

There’s an election coming up in the US. It occurred to me that the way we usually describe it may be misleading to some Americans who haven’t voted before.  We call it a presidential election, but there’s a lot more than that on the ballot. We call it casting your vote, but it’s not really one vote, it’s more like a lot of different votes that happen to be on the same piece of paper or the same screen.

You don’t have to cast a vote in every contest that’s on your ballot. If you don’t want to cast a vote for some of the offices, you can still cast your vote for all the offices you *do* want to vote for. For instance, some people vote for a presidential candidate and the other federal offices, but don’t bother with the local politics. Some people do the reverse and only vote in local campaigns. Or any number of other things. You don’t have to vote for everything to vote for something.

Speaking personally, I wish I had realized this sooner. I didn’t vote in one of the elections I was eligible to vote in, because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either presidential candidate. I regret that, in part because I don’t think I did any good by not voting (one of them won anyway, I just didn’t get any influence over which one). But even aside from that, and I think in some ways more importantly — I regret sitting that election out because there were so many other things on the ballot I could have voted for.

If I wasn’t willing to vote for a President, I could have voted for a senator and a congressional representative. If I wasn’t willing to vote for the federal candidates, I could have voted for state-level elected officials. If I wasn’t willing to vote for state officials, I could have voted in the local contests for mayor, for town council, for sheriff, and for school board. If I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any candidate for any federal, state, or local office, I could at least have voted for the local library bond measure.

In the town I lived in, a lot of the public library’s funding depends on the voters. When bond measure are approved, the library gets more funding. It can be open more hours. They have more and better books, computers, and programming. Immigrants who need help learning English, and kids and adults who need help learning to read, are much more likely to get it. Growing up, I remember the bond measures being voted down more often than not.

Moving into an area in which the library is well funded, I can see what a difference that makes. The library closest to me has a lot of high quality books, science discovery kits for kids, homework help, a programming camp for teenagers, ASL interpretation and captioning at library programs for people who request it, ASL learning resources, public meeting rooms, discussion groups for English learners, and any number of other things that matter. All of those things cost money, and libraries can only do them if they get funded. Elections tend to affect that either directly by voting on a bond measure, or indirectly by electing a candidate who does or doesn’t prioritize libraries.

So — if you’re where I was at back then, if you don’t want to vote for a presidential candidate — you don’t have to stay home to abstain from that. If you can’t stand any of the candidates for mayor, or president, or senate, or whatever other office, you can still vote for everything else. If there’s only one issue you can stand to vote on, or one office you can stand to pick a candidate for, it’s still your vote, and you still have the right to cast it. There’s going to be a lot on the ballot that’s available to you. It’s worth knowing what it is.

If you want to find out what will be on your local ballot, www.VOTE411.org has information. You can enter your address and get a sample ballot and information about how to register to vote. Votesmart.org also has information about local candidates. If you want to find out whether things you’ve heard about a state or federal candidate are true, politifact.com and factcheck.org are good resources. The Legaue You can also google your local board of elections website (“[your county] board of elections] and “voting in [your state]” are search terms that usually get useful results.

Tl;dr If you’re eligible to vote in a US election, and you’re not sure that you want to vote this year, it’s worth finding out what will be on your local ballot beyond the presidential election. There may be things you do want to vote for.

Verifying that you are registered to vote in the US election

fridayiminlooove asked: I’m pretty sure I’m registered to vote, but I want to make sure, is there a way to double check?

Realsocialskills answered:

Yes, there is. Voter registration (including party affiliation if you’re registered with a party) is a matter of public record, and it is possible to check.

The easiest starting place is vote.org.

They have a tool for checking whether you’re registered. They also have a tool for helping you register if you’re not already.

That said, vote.org isn’t always right. Sometimes they will say that you are not registered when you actually are. (It says I’m not, and I definitely am.)

If vote.org says that you are not registered, it will also give you a link to the website associated with your precinct. (It may be a state-level, county-level, city-level or some other level site.) Your precinct will have a more complete registration list. Most areas have online tools for checking. If they don’t, you can probably find out by calling your board of elections (there will be a phone number on the website).

Voting in US presidential elections matters (even though the president isn’t quite directly elected)

Anonymous asked: Re: voting: Why does your vote for president matter when the electoral college chooses the president?

Realsocialskills answered: Your vote for President matters because the voters determine who the electoral college chooses in your state.

Each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes. After the state’s polls close and the votes are tallied, the electors meet. The electors vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates the majority of voters voted for. So, the voters in your state, including you, determine how your state will vote.

(The legal mechanics of this vary state-by-state, and in some states they are technically not legally required to vote this way. But in practice there is a very, very strong tradition of always doing so, to the point that there may as well be a law.)

Your vote also matters even if it doesn’t influence the outcome of the election. It doesn’t just matter who wins, it also matters how much they win by. Because politicians and political parties want to keep winning elections, they pay close attention to what’s popular and unpopular with voters.

When a large majority of American voters vote for a particular candidate, it shows that their strategy for getting elected was really effective. Other politicians, and political parties, take this into account when they make decisions. Anything that wins a lot of votes will influence what politicians do to seek political power, and what they do with their power once they have it.

This means that presidents who win by a huge majority of votes have much more power to keep their campaign promises. Most campaign promises are in significant part about changing the law. There are some things the president can do unilaterally, but most of the really important changes require Congress to vote on new laws.

Senators and members of Congress can decide to support the change, oppose it, or remain neutral. When a president wins by a large majority, politicians have to consider the possibility that opposing the president’s agenda would cost them votes.

If the president didn’t win by so much or even lost the popular vote, senators and members of congress don’t have to worry so much about opposing them — and may even get the message that opposing them will get them votes. (It’s particularly important how people in their state or district voted, even if it doesn’t influence the outcome of the national election. Even if the candidate lost in your state, if they got more votes than expected, your politicians will notice.)

The outcome of the popular vote also influences how likely presidents are to keep the campaign promises that they *are* in a position to keep unilaterally. Presidents want to get elected for a second term, and they want candidates from their party to keep winning after they leave office. When they win a strong majority of the popular vote, it sends the message that keeping their campaign promises will help them to get reelected and will make their party stronger.

It also influences the positions and strategies of the political parties. When a president wins by a lot of votes, their political party will usually focus on continuing to appeal to the voters who voted for them. The other party will also usually try to figure out how to appeal to those voters more. This affects which candidates they pick, and which positions they support and oppose.

Politicians want to get elected, parties want to run candidates who can win. When appealing to a certain group gets a party a huge number of votes, they’re more likely to keep doing it. When it doesn’t influence the election much, they’re more likely to conclude that that group isn’t an important demographic for winning elections. When it makes them lose, they’re likely to distance themselves.

For instance, a political party may run a campaign based on appealing to marginalized groups. If this wins them the election by a large margin, they get the message that winning elections depends on continuing to work on issues those groups care about. That will influence how winning candidates vote, and it will influence how all candidates campaign.

Similarly, a party may run a presidential campaign based on appealing to xenophobic racists. If this causes them to lose an election by a wide margin, they’re more likely to distance themselves from xenophobic racists. Likewise, if a party’s position on immigration, education, taxes, or whatever else gets them a lot of votes or loses them a lot of votes, it will influence their choices about whether and to what extent they continue to promote that policy.

Also, your congressional representative, your senator, and your state officials are directly elected. So is your school board, your city council, your mayor, and probably your county sheriff. So if you’re going to show up and vote for them, you may as well also vote for president. Every elected office matters, and every vote ultimately counts.

Tl;dr The mechanics of voting for President of the United States are fairly odd, but your vote matters anyway. Scroll up for an explanation of why.

Shout out to Americans adult who won't be voting today

wombatking:

chicagolatkegirl:

realsocialskills:

If you’re an American adult, there’s a lot of intense pressure to vote right now.

And I know that, for all kinds of reasons, a lot of you won’t be able to vote today. And all of you matter too.

Some of you may be unable to travel to the polls.

Some of you may have been convicted of a crime (rightly or wrongly).

Some of you may have been declared mentally incompetent by a judge.

Some of you may not have been able to figure out how to get a ballot in time.

Some of you might be at home taking care of kids with no one available to watch them so that you can go to the polls.

Some of you might have abusive partners who are preventing you from voting.

Some of you might be avoiding a stalker who knows your polling location.

Or any number of reasons.

Voting is important, but it is not the end all and be all of civic responsibility. If you for whatever reason aren’t able to exercise your right to vote, you’re still an American, you’re still an adult, and your voice still matters. (And if you’re neither an American nor an adult, your voice also still matters.) You have not failed or forfeited the right to have an opinion on political issues.

Whether or not you vote today, you matter and it’s good that you care about things, and it’s ok to keep caring about things.

chicagolatkegirl said:

I would like to add that some people may have attempted to register to vote but been denied due to handwriting (like I was twice), since many people have motor control difficulties.

wombatking said:

I can confirm this. My handwriting has gotten weaker since high school when I first registered, and my signature is a lot more “abstract” than it was then. I usually have to show ID to prove it’s me when I sign in, and many places may be stricter and cause even more trouble. 

What to expect on election day:

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

What’s the process of voting like when you go to your polling place?

realsocialskills said:

Generally it is something like this:

You go to your designated polling place. (Your polling place is assigned based on your address; in most states you have to go to that exact place and not another voting location.)

The polling place will likely be in either a school or a church.

At most times of day, there will be a long line. When you are done waiting in the line, you will check in. There will probably be a table staffed by election volunteers. They will check to make sure that you are on the list for that location. In some states, they will check your ID. They will then cross you off the list to prevent you from voting twice.

They will probably give you a small sticker with an American flag and the words “I voted”.

Once you are checked in, they will direct you to an available voting booth. The booth will have a curtain that you are supposed to close so that no one can see who you voted for.

Some people bring their children along to teach them about the importance of voting. It is considered acceptable to bring a child into the voting booth with you. It is not considered acceptable to bring along an adult, unless you have a disability and need physical assistance voting.

The exact process of voting depends on the state. Some states use various kinds of paper ballots. If your state uses paper ballots, you will mark your ballot in the booth and then bring it to a ballot box or ballot scanning machine. If your state uses voting machines, you will complete the voting process inside the booth.

Most ballots allow you to decide between voting a straight party ticket, or voting for individual candidates. If you vote the straight party ticket, that means you select the party you want to vote for, and automatically vote for all of their candidates. This is a good option if you know that you only want to vote for Democrats, or only want to vote for Republicans, and you’re worried that you might make a mistake in marking your ballot if you mark each candidate individually. (It’s generally not a useful option if you want to vote for third party candidates, since most of the races will only have Republican and Democratic candidates. It is likely to be a better idea to vote for your third party candidate in their race, then vote in all the other races for the candidates you prefer.)

You don’t have to vote in every race. For instance, if you only care who is running for Congress, you can leave the slots for mayor and school board blank.

Some states (eg: California) have ballot initiatives you can vote on. That means that the voters directly vote on some laws. Voting a straight party ticket doesn’t affect those issues one way or another; you vote on them individually.

Most counties have bond measures. That’s basically a vote on whether to raise taxes in order to fund something like a library or school expansion. Those are also things you vote on directly even if you voted the straight party ticket for candidates.

Campaigning isn’t allowed inside the polling place, or within a certain distance of the polling place. No campaigning means that no one is allowed to put up signs for candidates, or try to convince you to vote the way they want you to. At the polling place, they are required to leave you alone.

In practice, this means that campaigners will usually hang around as close to the polling places as it’s legal for them to be. There will probably be signs right at the border, and likely people in that area talking about candidates. It’s ok to talk to them if you want to; it’s also ok not to. They usually won’t be aggressive about bothering people; if they break the rules, they can be kicked out of the area.

When you leave the polling place (especially if you vote late in the day), there might be reporters (or high school civics students) hanging around nearby. They might ask you who you voted for. Reporters ask this because they want to predict who will win the election before the official results are announced.

The Voting Information Project can tell you where your polling place is and other information specific to your area.