The excuse I always hear from those who refuse to register is that doing so places them on a list for performing jury duty. I must concede that there is a tiny kernel of truth in this. The commissioner of jurors does indeed check the voter rolls to find potential jurors. The trouble is that the commissioner also works off of a database that checks drivers licenses, social security records, tax returns and a half dozen other public lists you can’t avoid. You could lock yourself in a closet and they’d still find you. And anyway, what’s so terrible about jury duty? I’ve been called down three times, actually served on a jury once (we found him guilty, in case you were wondering), and I never found any of it a hardship. When you fail to register, the only thing you accomplish is eliminating any hope of influencing anyone. There’s no upside in that.
Register for One of the Major Parties. If you register as an independent, or for one of the minor parties, you are significantly reducing the value of your vote. You gain nothing by disqualifying yourself from voting in primaries. To the contrary, primaries are often the most important elections of all. This is because the major parties look at them as the ultimate test of their organization. In a primary, the candidates are usually similar ideologically. The parties therefore view these elections as the acid test of their effectiveness. They know their organization is strong if their candidates win, and they know the opposite is true if their candidates lose. Vote any way you like in the general election. But make sure to vote in the primary. The parties will pay more attention to you if you do.
Always Vote, Even if Your Candidate Has No Hope of Winning. This might be the most important rule of all. Win or lose, once the election is over the politicians and the professionals pour over the numbers to see who showed up to vote. Showing your willingness to vote for a loser can have a more powerful effect than voting for a winner because it shows dedication. These are the voters politicians pay attention to.
Not Everyone Can Donate Money, But Everyone Can Donate Time. If you are one of the lucky people in a position to give tzedakah, politics is not a bad place to put at least some of it. The $80 million AIPAC collects each year gets leveraged up to over $3 billion of foreign aid given to Israel annually. But even if you can’t donate money, you can always donate time. I’m not even talking about the things that require a major commitment like handing out fliers or sticking up signs. It can be as easy as showing up for a rally or just putting your signature on a petition.
Don’t Worry About Your Shul Losing Its Charitable Status. This really gets under my skin – asking an executive director of a shul for an e-mail list and being told he can’t release it because it might jeopardize the shul’s tax-free status. One has only to look at how effectively and brilliantly the African-American community has used its churches as sources of political power to understand how nonsensical this fear is. I have never heard of an attempt to deny a shul, a church or a mosque its tax-free status for engaging in political activity. The IRS can’t even deny 501(c)(3) status to the Church of Scientology. I have enough respect for the intelligence of shul leaders to understand what they are really saying is, “This politics stuff is a real pain in the neck, so could you please just leave us all alone?”
A few months ago, the New York State Republican Party held its primary. None of the elections generated any excitement, because all the candidates will face an uphill battle in November. In Lawrence, we’ll get about 2,500 voters to turn out for a contested school board election. Only 75 people showed up for the primary. It was a real missed opportunity. If thousands, or even hundreds, of people had shown up, Republicans and Democrats alike would have gotten a strong message that this is not a community they can afford to ignore.