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We all have a role in protecting democracy

By Lauren Cristella

With the 2020 election still being litigated through multiple indictments of a former president, it’s easy to feel a roller coaster of emotions ending with a big dose of exasperation.

As we are barraged with a firehose of analysis suggesting that American democracy hangs in the balance, many ordinary people wonder: What could possibly be done to fix this?

The answer is surprisingly simple: You can do the next thing.

Yes, you. Let the lawyers and pundits argue about the last election. Your focus needs to be on the next one. And believe it or not, you hold the power to protect democracy.

What should you do?

The next thing.

No matter what your level of civic engagement is, you can always take a single step up the ladder. And that’s all it takes — just one step.

I serve as president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan nonprofit with bipartisan support, which has promoted, supported and facilitated election integrity for more than a century. We want every eligible voter to vote, to be informed when they vote, and to vote with confidence, and we believe the best way to get the government we deserve is to get involved and become a part of the democratic process.

I know that can sound like a lot, especially when years of norm-shattering headlines have desensitized so many Americans. But it’s easier than you think.

If you aren’t a voter — or if you haven’t voted since 2020 — your next step is simple: Check your registration and make a plan to vote in November. (Yes, this November.) You can find out where your polling place is and plan your ballot ahead of time at seventy.org, or you can request a mail-in ballot if you’re worried you won’t make it to the polls on Election Day or if you like the idea of voting from your kitchen table.

If you’re already a voter, consider taking action to motivate your friends, family and colleagues to vote. Talk to your employer about sharing voter registration information and deadline reminders company-wide (we have a template for that in our WeVote program), join an organization like the League of Women Voters or Headcount that go into the community and register voters.

If you feel strongly about a particular issue or candidate, consider volunteering for a campaign. This could mean knocking on doors and talking to your neighbors, or calling other voters to encourage them to vote, or even sending postcards to other voters. One study showed that canvassing can raise the probability that a voter will cast a vote by 8.7 percentage points. In a close election, that’s the whole ballgame.

If you’ve already motivated others to vote, consider actually enabling people to cast their vote by working the polls on Election Day. After a quick training that you can do via home computer, you’re ready to be one of the thousands of people who see to it that everyone has the opportunity to vote. Poll workers check in voters, staff polling locations, and make sure the process is smooth, safe and secure for every voter. These actions might seem small, but they couldn’t be more crucial. The better the voting experience is, the more likely it is that your friends and neighbors will vote again in the next election. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy will be.

Poll workers make sure our elections are free and fair. If you’ve ever questioned whether you can trust election results, the best way to answer that is to become a poll worker yourself and learn firsthand how the process works.

If you’ve already worked the polls, consider running for office. In Philadelphia, every few square blocks of the city are represented by committeepeople who help engage neighbors, get out the vote and ensure our political process remains robust.

If you’ve already been a committeeperson, consider a run for ward leader. Or councilperson. Or state representative or state senator. Or congressperson.

You don’t need to do everything. Just do the next thing.

We all have a role to play, and whenever someone answers the call to active citizenship, our democracy gets stronger.

What’s your next step? ••

Lauren Cristella is president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy.

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