Five ways to help democracy even if you can’t vote

We’re all in this together.

Get your clipboard, loser—we're going canvassing. La Miko / Pexels

<<< More Election 2020 coverage right this way. >>>

Voting is one of the most important parts of participating in a democracy, and even though it is protected as a Constitutional right, it’s also a privilege. In the US, you can only cast a ballot if you’re a citizen over 18 years old who meets requirements that vary depending on the state you live in, which leaves out a lot of people who would love to have a say in the upcoming elections.

If you’re one of them—maybe you’re too young or aren’t a US citizen—there is still a lot you can do to keep yourself active and engaged during this entire process and beyond.

Go canvassing

You may not be able to register, but if you can communicate, you can canvass. This is not only a political tradition going back decades, but it’s also one of the best ways to get people informed and excited about what’s going on.

Essentially, you get to be the spokesperson for whatever cause or candidate you’re supporting. This means you’ll answer people’s questions and highlight what’s relevant to their lives, which puts you in an excellent position to bring awareness to your cause and even change voters’ minds.

The great thing about canvassing is that you can start small—do your research, get around your block, and talk to your neighbors. Right now, with the pandemic, canvassing requires some preparation, so make sure you wear a mask and keep your distance from the door so the people answering can feel safe. Also, use hand sanitizer before you knock on doors and ring bells to protect anybody who may come after you.

If you don’t feel comfortable canvassing IRL, you can always volunteer for online canvassing efforts. You can contact a campaign, non-governmental organization (NGO), or local group and tell them you want to volunteer. Some candidates have made it even easier by creating phone apps with all you need to spread the word online.

Volunteer your time

If you don’t know exactly what you want to do to help your cause, you can contact your candidate’s local campaign office and see what’s available. Most of them have direct links on their websites that will identify your location and put you in contact with the right people.

Be warned, though—when you volunteer, you’ll have little control over what you’re doing. Most likely you’ll get to pick an activity from a list (probably canvassing, event staffing, or contacting voters through calls and texts), but there’s no guarantee there will be something that really excites you.

If you’re not thrilled with your job, remember you’re in it for the cause and whatever you do to help can make a difference in the final outcome.

Drive people to the polls

Do you have a driver’s license and access to a car? Awesome! You’re ready to help make democracy happen.

Senior citizens, people with reduced mobility, those who live far away from their voting place, and anyone who tried to vote early but couldn’t due to complicated or prohibitive absentee ballot procedures often need to catch a ride to vote. Carpool Vote is an initiative that started in 2016 and aims to help everyone claim their right to cast a ballot.

The idea is simple: If you need help getting to your polling place or to simply register, you can request a ride and the platform will set you up. If you have a car and a license to drive it, you can sign up as a volunteer and help people on or before election day.

Don’t consider this an electoral Uber where you’ll have tons of requests all day long. The system matches riders and drivers according to certain parameters, like the driver’s availability and the type of car they have. When there’s a match, the driver can accept the request and will then be able to directly contact their potential passenger to make arrangements.

This is an easy and straightforward way to help get the vote out, and you’ll get to meet new people interested in the process. It’s a win-win.

Become an interpreter

If you speak another language, it’s possible you may be able to enroll as an interpreter at the polls. The availability and requirements for this position highly depend on the state you live in, so it’s important to check for poll working opportunities on the US Election Assistance Commission’s website.

Most poll worker positions require you to be a registered voter, but being an interpreter is one of the few exceptions—though there are still some requirements. In New York, for example, they’re looking for people who can speak Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, or Bengali, but interpreters need to be 18 or older and permanent US and New York City residents.

Get creative

Doing your part is easy and doesn’t require a certain age or passport. If you want to skip the most obvious choices and break the mold, there is still so much you can do.

We have some suggestions:

Raise awareness

Anyone can spread the word about what they believe in. Choose your favorite platform and run wild with it. If TikTok is your thing, you can put together short explainers on why people should vote for your candidate or even vote at all. You can also research and debunk false bits of information on Twitter.

The internet is vast and full of possibilities, but if you want to travel a more analog path, you can organize discussions among your peers or, if you’re in a classroom setting, ask your teacher to help you get the ball rolling. There are many resources for educators and even full lesson plans, so if they roll their eyes at you, you can tell them you already did all the legwork.

Take care of people standing in line

Voting is already happening and many early voting birds have been forced to stand in line for hours to get their ballot in. To make things worse, the climate in some places has refused to acknowledge we’re officially in Fall, so those long lines may also be stretched out under unrelenting sun and high temperatures.

If you want to be this election’s equivalent of Santa Claus, you can visit a polling place near you and supply voters with water, snacks, and even fresh masks—because we all know how unpleasant a sweat-drenched mask can be. Maybe provide folks with some hand fans to keep things cool—they’re cheap and you can easily buy them in bulk.

Talk to your family and loved ones

If election season has its own version of an extreme sport, this may very well be it. Talking politics can be taboo in some households—especially when opposing political views live under the same roof—but sometimes these conversations can be truly rewarding. Keep your cool, listen to whoever you’re talking to and, above all, empathize.

You’ll need to manage your expectations, though. You may not change minds or convince your aunt to get out and vote, but you may have planted a seed that will bloom in future elections. It can be a process, but by talking about it, you’re doing more than enough.