To impersonate someone else at the polls is voter fraud; to vote for the sake of someone other than just yourself is to care about your neighbor. Voter suppression laws enacted in state after state this year have been a solution in search of a problem. Voter fraud was not the issue. Keeping large groups of people from voting and thereby trying to influence the outcome of the election was the strategic goal. Although some voter suppression laws have been curtailed by court rulings, many remain in place. Some new strategies will be implemented. Election officials may make ongoing changes to early voting availability, including locations and hours. Putting out confusing information if not outright misinformation, and scrutinizing details on voter I.D.’s may cause havoc on Election Day. Your neighbor may not be able to vote. How do we vote, not in the neighbor’s place, but for the sake of the neighbor?People who cannot or can no longer drive, people who are poor, people of color are vulnerable. Likewise college and university students. On our Wartburg Seminary campus, many students have a driver’s license in one state but are in residence here in Iowa. We have provided voter registration twice here on campus. Students can vote early. And I urge them to do so. “Absentee ballot” does not necessarily mean you are out of town on Election Day. You may be in classes all day and thereby choose to vote early by mail. That also provides a shorter line on Election Day for someone who has to get to work. That’s a way to vote for the sake of your neighbor.
In some states new laws have taken away voting on the Sunday before Election Day when traditionally African Americans, as a sign of citizenship and freedom after the Voting Rights bill was passed during the Civil Rights Movement, would go together after church to vote. For people with limited personal mobility, that was an act of communal care, not a “voting block.” Some students on our campus are organizing car pools to go to the polls together before or on November 6, thereby encouraging one another and making sure that all have a ride. That’s a way to vote for the sake of your neighbor.
As a professor I do not tell students for which candidate to vote, but I can and do raise the subject of the vocation of citizenship. Last Election Day I offered to give students and their spouses a ride to the polls, and even to take care of their children. One student spouse told me later, “I didn’t call you for a ride, but I might not have voted had you not sent that offer.” That’s a way to vote for the sake of one’s neighbor.Voting for the sake of your neighbor is what the right of citizenship is all about. Citizenship is more often taken for granted than examined. It’s not just a matter of exercising my own right as a citizen, but being a citizen for the common good, not only for the country, but for the sake of the world. One is not called to be a citizen in isolation.
One hears often, “What will the candidate do for me?” People should ask, “Whose interest is this supporting?” “Who will benefit if this policy is implemented?” “How will people different from me be helped or harmed if this candidate is elected?” It’s a matter of vocation, paying attention to those who are suffering and using one’s wisdom and to see how they can be best served. In public policy, priority needs to be given to the good of the community. In the October issue of The Lutheran magazine, Darrell Jocock, Gustavus Adolphus College, has an excellet article on vocation as an invitation to become a channel for God's activity in the world by putting the neighbor first. He gives examples of Luther's involvements in public service.
It’s not too late to gather people to have informed discussion, to sort out the truth from misleading statements, yes, even at church in an adult forum. (Youth will also benefit from seeing adults do this and from having such conversations at church themselves.) Such informed discussion can empower people for action towards fostering justice and working towards equality. Vote for the sake of the neighbor to restore relationships and mend the world.
Registering and voting early is essential. College and university students, and anyone who has moved recently, such as people who rent their residence, may be issued only a provisional ballot at some polls on Election Day. Many of these may not be counted.In spite of voter suppression efforts, stalwart people have been out registering people one by one, and informing them of their rights, helping them obtain newly required I. D’s. Some of these workers remember when they, or their parents or grandparents, could not vote before the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Thousands of people marched and many died so that others could vote then, and today. Vote for the sake of them. Vote for the sake of the voice and vote of those who come after you.