Take it to the Polls
Tuesday, November 3 is election day, and voting still matters. Here’s how to get informed and make your vote count
by Liz Dobbins (’21)
This year, the world as we knew it morphed into a new reality with the onset of the global pandemic. This change has served as a glaring reminder of the impact politics have on our daily lives. From the action of protesting and voting to navigating state mandates made by local government officials, we have all felt the touch of politics profoundly in 2020. This November is our chance to respond to these experiences through casting our votes.
But, if you are like me, you may not know where to begin (and the stress of the pandemic doesn’t help). Is voting through the mail safe? How do I make sure my vote counts? How do I begin to become informed? Does voting really create that much of an impact? Westminster community members Professor Marie Staniforth, Jazmin May (’19), and Justin Shadley (’21) address these questions and remind us that we do have the ability to make an impact at the ballot box.
Why Voting Matters
The pandemic, particularly for me, brought to light the importance of voting, not just for the presidency, but also in state and local races,” says Marie Staniforth, a political science professor at Westminster. “We have seen, especially in Utah where we didn’t have a statewide mask mandate, how which county or city you’re living in is really important.”
Our votes can impact the very policies that were put in place because of the global pandemic, including mask mandates, shutdowns, and in-person schooling. “There’s so much on the table this election. There’s the response to the pandemic, climate change, immigration, racial justice,” Marie says.
In addition to the potential of our vote changing local, state, and national decisions, it also impacts the lives of our community members. There is privilege in voting. When I began this journey, I didn’t realize the full extent of this. Millions of individuals call America home but are unable to have a say in what policies are being put into place due to their citizenship status. In fact, 45 percent of US immigrants can’t vote in this election because of their citizenship status, according to the Pew Research Center. Marie and Westminster alumna, Jazmin May (’19), are two of those people. Marie is from the UK and began the process to receive her US citizenship just before the pandemic hit; she doesn’t have the right to vote. Despite this, Marie recognizes the privilege she has in being white and middle class compared to those with a different immigration status than her. Jazmin came to the US at the age of five and has since called it her home. Eighteen years later, Jazmin is unable to participate in voting because of her status as a DACA recipient.
Though they are unable to vote, both Marie and Jazmin experience the full impact of politics on a daily basis. From the statewide mandates we experienced with the onset of COVID-19 and Supreme Court decisions affecting legislation, to the healthcare coverage they can receive, politics is interwoven into the threads of our society. That’s why votes don’t only impact the people casting them. “When you cast a vote, you’re not just casting it for yourself, you’re casting it for other people who don’t have the privilege to vote and speak up,” Jazmin says. “That’s why I do what I do: I can’t speak up by voting so I find other ways.”
Jazmin helps change the political landscape through working on political campaigns—including Luz Escamilla’s mayoral campaign; Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign; and, currently, Devin Thorpe’s congressional campaign. Her primary job? Getting people to vote. She started with knocking on doors explaining a candidate’s plan to, now, encouraging voting through marketing campaigns. Jazmin also tries to make it known how individuals from underserved communities can vote and where they can find information on candidates to make an informed vote. “We just make voting accessible only to a specific group of people, but that’s not the only group of people who make up our country,” Jazmin says, pointing to single mothers, low-income families, and underserved individuals who don’t have the time or money to stand in line for hours waiting to cast a vote as examples of groups she works with to provide resources and access to voting.
Your vote has substantial impact. Whether it be in helping push legislation that allows individuals like Jazmin to receive the right to vote or impacting climate change legislation, public lands, and racial justice, your vote matters.
Being an Informed Voter
Becoming informed before casting your ballot will further the change you want to see. “If voting matters—which I want to argue that it really does—then it’s important to make that vote the right vote for you, to make sure that the person you’re voting for really does align with your values and what you think society should look like,” Marie says.
Actively engaging in politics is one place to start. “Politics is something that, from the outset, can come off as almost like a sporting event,” says Justin Shadley (’21), a Westminster senior and the Associated Students of Westminster assistant chief justice. “You can be from the outside looking in, but ultimately that’s a disservice to what politics is. Pay attention and attend local political events, whether that be your county commissioner’s office or your school board. Just participate.”
An informed vote can also act as a catalyst for change. Change for people like Jazmin, change towards policies that affect your daily life, and change for the society you want to live in. But where do you begin your research? “A good way to start is by looking at what’s on the docket,” Justin says. “November 3rd may be the race for presidency, but there’s also House and Senate race and races at the state, county, and local level.” On the docket—also known as the ballot—you will find who is running at each level.
After discovering who the candidates are, both Justin and Jazmin recommend performing a quick Google search, finding information from sources that don’t lean too far either way, and finding which candidates align with your goals. “Voting is one of the easiest and most effective ways the everyday citizen can participate with the policy-making process and politicians in general,” Justin says. “We can’t all fundraise. We can’t all actively organize. We can’t all run for office. But we can all vote.”
It’s easy to tell someone to inform themselves on current candidates and become actively engaged in politics, but the act of beginning that journey can be difficult—at least it feels that way for me. Justin recommends building excitement for yourself surrounding the election. “I’m not trying to be partisan, but there’s a lot at stake here,” Justin says. “I get excitement from that in the regard that I can actually impact the change for a better future in this country.”
So, whether it’s the possibility of change or perhaps having simple political conversations with those you know, the excitement you receive from voting can be the catalyst for you to begin researching.
Making Your Vote Count
So you’ve gathered information on the candidates and are ready to cast that ballot. How can you be sure your vote will be counted? “The first thing to do is double check that you’re registered to vote because obviously if you miss that cutoff, then that’s a big problem,” says Marie.
Aside from registration, voter fraud is at the top of our minds. Mail-in voting is being described as dangerous by some political leaders and is at the center of debate. This method of voting is something a few states, including Utah, have been doing for years without issue. “There’s this narrative around mail-in voting and how maybe it’s dangerous, but that’s simply not true,” Marie says. “It’s really important that we combat that and put the message out there that mail-in voting is completely safe. It’s completely reliable. It’s completely effective. It doesn’t have a partisan advantage.”
Marie cited a 20-year study done by Amber McReynolds and Charles Stewart III, which found that there is a 0.00006 percent chance of voter fraud. This equates to one case per state every six to seven years. Additionally, there is widespread bipartisan support for mail-in voting. The Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of Americans—49 percent of which are Republican—support this form of voting. Stanford University also found that there is no partisan advantage to mail-in voting.
All this being said, a major increase in mail-in voting might come with new challenges. “I don’t want to buy into the narrative around mail-in voting fraud, but at the same time, there will be an increased pressure on USPS this election,” Marie says. “If you’re able to, try to use drop boxes as an alternative. In Utah, there’s the option of early voting; look at whether that’s an option wherever you’re registered to vote.”
Voter polls—polls conducted by news sources that compile statistics on who different people did or will vote for—can also affect whether our vote counts. The weight opinion polls carry can either cause people to feel the added pressure to go out and vote (bandwagon) or give them false comfort that their candidate will be elected causing them not to vote (boomerang). “We seemingly saw the bandwagon effect with Joe Biden in the primaries. Once they told us that Joe Biden was ahead, lots of people went out and voted for him,” Marie says. “And we seemed to witness the boomerang effect in 2016. Many people thought that Trump didn’t stand a chance because of the polls. It appears as if Clinton supporters thought, ‘Clinton’s going to win. I don’t necessarily need to go out and vote.’ And perhaps the people supporting Trump thought, ‘Oh, I really need to go out and vote.’ Don’t put too much into those public opinion polls and don’t let them change your actions. If you plan to vote, go out and vote, regardless of what is out there and what’s being said because you can’t afford to be complacent. Nor should you feel like it’s futile.”
Register to vote, become informed, decide what voting method you will use (in-person, absentee, mail-in, drop-box), and vote early if you can. Doing all these things will help ensure your vote is counted. “It comes down to the idea of representation,” Marie says. “To make democracy function as effectively as possible, you need to have as many voices as you possibly can.”
After the Election
If your goal is to truly create change, your actions shouldn’t stop at the ballot box. Marie, Jazmin, and Justin weigh in on what we can do to be catalysts for change after our votes are cast:
Marie: “A lot of people see the importance of direct action, protesting and those forms of politics; they see those as having a real impact. Whereas change through the ballot box is often slower, it’s not as obvious. I want to encourage people to see the systems as interconnected; voting and protesting speak to each other.”
Jazmin: “This is an important election year because of the presidential race and what it means for our nation. However, after the election is over, keep the momentum to keep fighting the injustices that exist in our country today. Find ways to get involved and give back to the community. And remember that there will be other elections—local elections—and those are also very important. Local elections have a huge impact on our direct community so don’t forget to inform yourself on those when they are happening.”
Justin: “Voting does matter. But I also think organization matters a lot as well. The two combined are what influence politics the most. You need to organize with your fellow voters. It’s one thing to vote—and you should always vote—but also encourage your community to be engaged in politics and fight for your community too.”
Utah Online Voter Resources
Check if you’re registered to vote in Utah: votesearch.utah.gov/voter-search/search/search-by-voter/voter-info
Information about who is running: votesearch.utah.gov
General voter information: vote.utah.gov/
How and where can I vote by address: votesearch.utah.gov
Sample ballot look up: ballotpedia.org
Salt Lake County: If you are an active registered voter, your ballot will be mailed to you between October 13–27. Didn’t receive your ballot? Immediately contact the Salt Lake county clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385.468.7400.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.