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Vote with Your Values: How to be a Sustainability Champion at the Polls

By casting a vote for what matters to you and what's good for the planet, your ballot can become a positive change agent.

Written by
Laura Wittig

There's a lot at stake in the next election, both nationally and locally. While this probably isn't news to you (and no doubt you've heard it from your parents, teachers, and grandparents many times), your vote actually does count. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida to George W. Bush by less than 600 votes, and Florida ended up deciding the election through a recount. It's hard not to wonder: would the United States be on a slightly different path if our President-in-Chief was actively focused on the climate?

Becoming an informed voter isn't as difficult as it once was – there's lots of easy ways to show up to the polls as an empowered citizen. By casting a vote for what matters to you and what's good for the planet, your ballot can become a positive change agent.

1) Make sure you're registered to vote and request a mail-in ballot if possible

Don't forget to register to vote by the deadline in your area, and if possible, request a mail-in ballot. Avoiding the polls during a pandemic is a safe option, even with social distancing plans in place – plus, having a mail-in ballot is like getting access to the test before the exam starts: you'll have more time to get your research done and decisions in place.

2) Look up your ballot before Election Day with Ballotpedia

It's actually possible to preview what's at stake before you head to the polls or open your mailbox – use Ballotpedia to see who and what will be appearing on your ballot. This gives you more time to research and become an informed voter!

3) Determine what matters most to you on the ballot

Your values determine your priorities, so it's important to get clear on what you care about and prioritize from there. Are you concerned about climate change? Do you want to reduce the amount of plastic waste your city creates? Would you like to lower your own personal tax bill, or are you willing to contribute to certain areas in your state that you deem necessary for the common good (education, infrastructure, etc.)? All of these questions can only be answered by you, and most of them aren't as black and white as they might seem. Start thinking about your voting goals early.

4) Evaluate politicians on the issues

Ever wanted to know what your mayoral candidates think about protecting your local parks? What has Joe Biden said about championing green energy sources? OnTheIssues.org lists thousands of local and national political candidates from around the United States and indexes them by issue. You can view past voting records, quotes, and more by topic like the Environment, Principles & Values, and more.

5) Use the 80/20 Rule: 80% Facts, 20% Emotion

It's easy to get caught up in the latest campaign drama or to latch onto an unpleasant soundbite from a politician caught off guard. When considering the impact that policies have on our planet, we can't stress this enough – use your brain to root out the facts, but rely on a combination of head and heart to decide what you think is best when it's time to vote. We're not robots, and the more you care about an issue, the more you can get excited and feel empowered.

6) Engage your friends + family in a debate (or hold a responsible party!)

Let's face it – there's a lot to take in once you start researching. Enlist the help of friends or family to tackle each topic, and come together with your findings in a lighthearted setting. Doing your civic duty doesn't have to fill you with dread. Add your favorite beverage to make things extra interesting and don't forget to gather responsibly.

7) Become a loudspeaker by volunteering

Once you've uncovered what matters the most to you (both by issue and candidate), consider donating your time to the cause you care about. Volunteer virtually or get the word out by sharing as much as you can so that the message you love is amplified.

8) Vote on November 3

Let's face it – the planet needs us in so many ways, and some of the fastest ways to enact change from a systemic point of view involve policies being put into place by your local and national lawmakers. Show up to the polls as an informed voter having done some research and you'll be able to take part in an action that's historic and empowering. Only you can make the difference happen!