Ever seen someone react to the phrase, “I may not vote” like they just said, “I may not wash my hands after I poop?” Yeah, me too. As a female veteran who has voted in all major elections and most local elections since I was 18, I have a crazy suggestion. What if we stop shaming those who choose not to vote and asked one simple question instead?
I’m all about the right to vote. I’m all about people voting. I’m grateful and honored to be able to vote. However, our country is not only split by the red and blue parties. It’s split by those who vote and those who don’t. Which is funny, because voting percentages haven’t changed in over 100 years. It’s the attitude that seems to have changed.
Since the early 1900s, voter turnout has hovered between 50-60% for Presidential elections. In the 2016 election, voter turnout was around 60%. Which leaves a 40% gap of eligible voters who did not vote. If you Google “why people don’t vote in the US,” you’ll see a myriad of reasons why people didn’t or couldn’t vote in the 2016 election. However, you will probably notice the two main reasons are:
- Not interested/didn’t like the candidates
- Too busy (which, to me, seems similar to “not interested”)
This can feel frustrating. Whatever your race and gender, the opportunity to vote in a peaceful election is only available because of the blood, sweat, and tears of the men and women who came before us as they fought in war or Civil Rights movements. It’s an honor to be able to vote in this country, and many choose not to participate.
As I mentioned before, I am a veteran, but I’m also a Christ-follower who prioritizes God above country. Voting isn’t a biblical topic. It’s a right offered to us in our country that I believe we should take seriously. I can definitely see a biblical case being made to leverage our vote—a resource that can be used on behalf of others—for good. I never want to be apathetic about the needs of people around me, and I can influence that in voting. I believe it’s an honor that I have the chance to vote. But I can’t say it’s a sin. In fact, if you’re uninformed and you’re not passionate about issues of today, I hope you don’t vote.
Wherever you land on your belief about voting, it doesn’t mean we should dishonor those who won’t. In recent elections, “voter-shaming” has become a popular way to “fix” the problem. A political columnist, Ana Marie Cox, tweeted, “I think shaming people into voting is perfectly acceptable. People died fighting for this.”
I whole-heartedly disagree with Ms. Cox.
Shaming doesn’t work. The guilt trip centered around men and women fighting for the right to vote isn’t accurate. They fought for the opportunity to vote. They didn’t fight, so people felt morally obligated to vote. Our constitution says that I have the right to vote. It also says I have the right to bear arms. Just because I can doesn’t mean I have to buy a gun today. The freedom to choose is part of what this nation was founded upon. So, if you’re reading this as someone who doesn’t/hasn’t/won’t be voting—the point is that you’re free to choose.
If you’re on the other side, and the idea of someone not using that choice offends you, you also have a choice—in how you respond. The most common responses are 1) non-verbal but growing bitterness toward that person/those “kinds” of people, or 2) shaming.
Shaming is a temporary quick fix that breeds more contempt than it gives results. When we use shame as a weapon to get a desired outcome, we’re tearing down bridges, not building them. We need more bridges built, and you can build a bridge with one word (and simultaneously prevent bitterness from creeping into your heart).
It’s so simple. It’s not easy. But it’s so simple. It’s easy to be angry at someone. It’s hard to try and understand them. The easy road writes off anyone who doesn’t agree. Easy allows our emotions to rule our actions (or inactions). So if we can push through and seek to understand, real heart change could happen. On both sides.
Be quick to listen. Slow to Speak and slow to anger.
We could all use a lesson in these words which were written by James, the brother of Jesus. These are words of wisdom to everyone, whether you believe in the biblical narrative or not. “Quick to listen” is an odd way of putting it, but it means to listen attentively, carefully, and diligently so that you can understand where someone is coming from, and when you speak, consider your words.
Most people aren’t actually the lazy, self-centered, dirt-bags that we make them out to be.
Here are some ways to ask “why” respectively,
“Help me understand your perspective.”
“I’m interested to understand why you don’t vote.”
“Would you mind taking a few minutes to share your views?
On the off-handed chance that you talk to someone who says, “I don’t give a flying-fart about voting because I only care about myself and voting is a waste of time….” Then you can be glad that they aren’t speaking into the direction of this country. What I honestly believe you’ll find is that people are more aware and mindful than you think. You’ll find their humanity, even if you disagree with their political view.
If you can have that conversation face-to-face over coffee or beer, that would be ideal. If that’s not possible, simply take it to a private message and don’t display the entire thing on social media where it’s easy for others to add fuel to the fire.
Maybe you’ve tried shaming in the past. Maybe you’ve just stewed in your anger and rolled your eyes. If that’s not working for you, try something completely different. Ask the simple question. Seek to understand. We can high five each other at the polls in November.