Advice for Casting your First Votes

If you are eligible to vote this fall, you may feel overwhelmed. Your friend is inviting you to debate watching parties, your aunt is tagging you in articles on Facebook and you’re not quite sure if “Weekend Update” was seriously reporting from the conventions.

When it comes to voting, adulting can be hard. Read on, my friend. I am here to help.

This election has a lot of drama and I’m kind of over it. Do I even have to vote?

In listing the duties of citizens, The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country…” (#2240).

Voting is described as “morally obligatory” – that’s pretty serious. While there might not always be ideal candidates running for office, we should learn as much as we can from reliable sources and then vote for the candidates we believe will serve the common good.

“Common good” What’s that?

We hear the phrase “common good” a lot when talking about the role of Catholics in the world. It’s unpacked more in paragraphs 1905-1912 in the Catechism, but a simple definition is “conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily” (#1906). So what are the conditions that will help all people flourish?

One of the most important ways each person reaches their fulfillment is that their right to life is protected. (Logic tells us that we need to be alive before we can enjoy any other opportunities for fulfillment.) Therefore, one of the first things I ask myself about a candidate is “do they want to protect everyone’s right to life — especially those who cannot defend themselves — like the unborn?”

That’s deep. But how do I find out what a candidate really plans to do about these and other important issues?

In the days of yore, this required newspapers or watching speeches in the town square, but now there is the internet. (How lucky we are to be alive right now.) Visiting the candidate’s own website will usually provide a breakdown of where they stand on each issue.

Your diocese may also have asked candidates to fill out questionnaires about issues important to Catholic voters. Links to the results of these questionnaires or surveys can usually be found on your diocesan website. (Not sure what diocese you live in? Your parish website will have a link.)

Will my pastor save me all this hard work and just tell me who I should vote for when the election gets closer?

No. As I mentioned above, a diocese or parish may share information about where a candidate stands on important issues, but they will not tell you who to vote for.

You can (and should) ask your pastor (or campus minister or other religious mentor or leader) if you need help understanding what the Catholic Church teaches and what your responsibilities are as a Catholic citizen taking part in an election.

This is a lot to learn. Where can I read more?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have published a guide to help Catholics be faithful citizens, which can be found here. They also have a section on Issues and Action, which goes into greater depth on certain issues and how Catholics can take action.

Our Sunday Visitor has also published a guide for Catholics that can offer further assistance in understanding what issues Catholics should examine with regards to elections: find it here.

What else can I do?

The Bishops have a final request for us in their document on Faithful Citizenship: Prayer.

They remind us that “the struggles we face as a nation and as a global community cannot be addressed solely by choosing the ‘best candidate’ for political office.”

Voting is an important responsibility of all citizens, but it’s just one way that we can work for the common good of all. Prayer, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and simply recognizing the dignity of each and every person we encounter will help all flourish.