November 3, 2020: this is a date you need to cement into your brain. This is the date of the 2020 presidential election.
I am sure you are reading this and thinking, Ugh! Another article about politics. I am sick of politics! I totally understand where you are coming from. We are living in a 24/7 news bubble. Every day there is a new story, new revelation, and/or new scandal, which gets extremely exhausting.
Instead of talking about politics as usual, I want to focus on what you can do over the next 12 months so that you are prepared for the 2020 election.
First of all, here are some important dates to mark on your calendars.
March 3, 2020: The Texas primary
A primary is a process by which voters can help narrow down the field of candidates for a certain political party. Texas is a unique state in that you don’t have to belong to a particular political party to vote in that primary. When you vote in a primary, you are asked whether you want to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary and then given a respective ballot. In the case of a runoff, you can only vote in the runoff if you voted in that party’s primary. For example, if there is a runoff between two Republican candidates for a certain seat, you can only vote in the runoff if you voted in the Republican primary. A lot of times runoffs happen in local elections due to the fact that a nominee needs to receive a certain amount of percentage points to be on the ballot. Note: To vote in the Texas primary, you must be registered to vote by February 3, 2020.
November 3, 2020: Election Day
This is it. This is the day. Two new processes will be happening in 2020 that you need to know about.
First, there will be no longer be straight party voting in Texas. Previously, when you stepped up to a machine to vote, you were given an option to vote “straight party,” meaning that you’d vote for all candidates on the ballot from a single political party without exception. Now, you will need to select each candidate in each race. Although this sounds daunting, especially when ballots are as long as they are, eliminating the straight party voting option will help a lot of local races when political party isn’t a huge factor in the elected office.
The second thing that has changed is that residents of Bexar County will be able to vote anywhere in Bexar County on Election Day. (Previously, Bexar County residents were limited to voting in their specific precinct.) Now I realize a lot of readers live outside of Bexar County, so please check your county’s rules to see where you should vote. But residents of Bexar County can vote in any polling location on Election Day. This is a huge development that will hopefully increase voter turnout and deter the long lines previously seen on Election Day.
Note: To vote in the 2020 presidential election, you must be registered to vote by October 5, 2020.
Now that you know the important dates, here are five ways you can be ready for the 2020 election:
1. Register yourself to vote and actually vote.
This may seem elementary, but it cannot be overstated: everyone who is eligible needs to register to vote and actually vote. In the last presidential election, in Texas in 2016, only 46.45% of the voting age population actually voted. That’s less than 50% of voting-aged Texans. I personally find that extremely sad. We can and must do better. Make a plan to get yourself to the polls in either early voting (the two weeks leading up to Election Day) or on Election Day. Please note that in order to vote in the November 2020 election, you must be registered to vote by October 5, 2020.
2. Become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR).
A Volunteer Deputy Registrar is a person who has taken a course and is able to register others to vote. The courses in Bexar County are offered every second Tuesday of the month at 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. at the Bexar County Elections Department. After you have taken the course and been sworn in as a VDR, which happens at the end of the class, you can register others to vote. Sign up with a friend to take the class and hold voter drives together. I became a VDR in August and recently held a voter drive at a community outreach event at a local church. At this event, I registered 14 new voters. It was extremely empowering to know that they will have their voices heard in our elections.
Anyone over 18 can become a VDR, and it is one of the easiest and most helpful ways you can make a difference.
3. Get people to the polls.
Getting people registered is half the battle; the other half is getting people to the polls. In last year’s senate election in 2018, 51% of registered voters in Bexar County actually voted. We need to work together to make sure the 49% of Bexar County registered voters who didn’t vote in 2018 make it to the polls and vote in 2020. You can call your local political party offices, ask for programs that encourage people to get to the polls, and see if you can volunteer to help. Whether it is calling people and reminding them that it’s time to vote or actually using your mom car to shuttle people to the polls, volunteers are needed to help bring information to voters and get them to their polling locations.
4. Become an election judge.
If you have time, consider becoming an election judge. These are the people who check your ID when you show up to vote and show you how to work the machines. They also handle a lot of other things behind the scenes. To apply to become an election judge, you need to take a class and pass a test (approximately six hours). Election judges are paid, so it is a unique way to get involved and be compensated for your time.
5. Decide the issues that are important to you.
Take time over the next 12 months to really look inside yourself and discover which issues are important to you as a voter. Research candidates based on those issues and figure out which ones align best with your values. There isn’t going to be one candidate with whom you agree on everything they say, but find one who speaks to you and makes you believe in their message. Take the next step by finding a local group that aligns with your candidate and volunteer with them. This becomes especially important with down ballot races as the infrastructure for their campaigns isn’t as coordinated as candidates at the top of the ballot.
The 2020 election isn’t just about the presidential race. Although the presidential race may be the most talked about, all of the down ballot candidates are extremely important. National and statewide senators, members of congress, local leaders who affect our lives and the way our city looks, and judges who preside over our laws and courts, will all be on the ballot in 2020.
The wonderful thing about politics is that it doesn’t matter if you have never voted before, or never even cared, you can still get involved now and make a difference. Don’t let the daily news dump get in the way of making a difference. It is up to all of us to do our part, find our voices, and be prepared for the future!