The following voting tips are not designed to tell you who to vote for, or what political party to support. As a follower of Jesus, you are a steward. My goal is to pass on practical information to help you wisely invest the vote He gave you to steward.
How do you decide who to vote for, or who to vote against? Think about that for a moment. Is it their style? Their personality? What they say? How they say it? Do they seem trustworthy? Maybe fear drives you? Maybe they claim to be a Christian. Maybe they are a member of the political party you tend to agree with. Many factors influence how we vote.
Elections are a billion-dollar industry with a lot at stake. Candidates pay dearly for marketing consultants who understand how to manipulate you, trick you, scare you, woo you and capture your imagination. They also hire skilled coaches who help them package and deliver their public speeches. Some candidates are such persuasive orators they could even fool their own mothers.
My mother was in the Oval Office with President Clinton on the National Day of Prayer in the 1990’s. She did not vote for him. She did not trust him. However, she said the man was so “charming” that had she not been absolutely certain of who she was talking to, she would have easily been sucked in within the first five minutes. I personally know leading pastors who were sucked in by him, who later publicly admitted how they had been duped.
During my days on Capitol Hill, I knew a Republican congressman who was highly respected and known to be a strong evangelical in his home district. He was tall, handsome, extremely smart, well-spoken and knew all the evangelical lingo. However, on Capitol Hill we all knew him to be a self-serving liar.
My point is—never trust the packaging or a silver tongue. It’s like Saruman in The Lord of the Rings—if you listened to him for very long, he could manipulate you with just his voice. The best defense was to just not listen.
So, if you can’t trust a candidate’s words, how do you decide? In the next few paragraphs, I am going to share some tips that can help you cut through verbal mirages.
So, let’s begin. Following are six voting criteria:
- INTEGRITY. Do their words and actions match? If they don’t, ignore their words and focus exclusively on their actions. Do their words and votes match? If they don’t, ignore their words and go with their voting record. But be careful, they can even fool you with how they say they vote.
During my days on Capitol Hill in the 80’s, I remember one congressman who went back to his home district in Georgia and told a group of conservatives he voted for Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He then told group of liberals he voted against funding SDI. Both were true. He had voted for the initial bill, then voted against funding it. Pretty shrewd, huh?
- TRACK RECORD. “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” We know people can change, but it’s wise to keep this saying in mind when a candidate’s track record and words diverge. Unless you can clearly identify why the candidate changed, go with their track record. You’ll be right 9 times out of 10. Remember, never underestimate the ability of a skilled politician to deceive you.
- ASSOCIATES. First, who are their friends? Remember the proverb your mother taught you: “You can judge a man by the company he keeps.” There is a lot of wisdom in that saying.
But there is another component to this concept that is just as important. Who do they hire? In politics there is a widely accepted truism: “Personnel is policy.” What that means is, no matter what a politician says, the person the candidate chooses to implement the policy is the one who will determine what actually happens. So look as carefully at the track record of the candidate’s chief of staff and key staffers as you do at the candidate. When you hear or see their names, google them.
- MONEY. Money runs politics. As the saying goes, “Follow the Money.” Who gave money to the candidate? Who has the candidate give money to? Who has given money to their PAC (if they have one)? Who payrolls or enriches their wife, kids and siblings? For congressmen, senators and the president, it’s often helpful to visit the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) website and look up your candidate. It takes some time, but you can often uncover very interesting financial connections.
One word of caution: many businesspeople often give to both candidates so they can have access after the election no matter who wins. That may be questionable ethics, but it is shrewd. And it is extremely common.
- ENDORSEMENTS. Who has endorsed the candidate? What groups have endorsed the candidate? Oh, and don’t forget, who has the candidate endorsed? Endorsements are a big clue as to how the candidate will vote after he or she is elected.
- WORDS. “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s true. Turn down the volume and vote based on the first five points above. I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough.
Here is one piece of advice that is often overlooked. What is the job description of the position the candidate is vying for? It should make a difference in how you vote.
JOB DESCRIPTION OF A U.S. CONGRESSMAN:
What is the primary job of a U.S. congressman? It’s to pass laws and spend your money, right? So, vote based on how you think they will spend your money, as well as the laws you think they are likely to support or oppose.
JOB DESCRIPTION OF A U.S. SENATOR:
What is the primary job description of a U.S. senator? Its’ to pass laws, spend your money, confirm cabinet members and confirm federal judges. Let me ask you, what is the most powerful branch of government today? Is it the legislative, executive or judiciary? It’s the judiciary. In theory, the three branches are supposed to serve as checks and balances against each other. However, in modern practice, the balance of power between the three branches of government is no longer balanced. The federal courts routinely tell the Congress and President what they can and cannot do. So, remember, when you vote for a United States senator, you are also voting for federal justices (including the Supreme Court) who will control your destiny and the destiny of this nation. Vote accordingly.
JOB DESCRIPTION OF THE U.S. PRESIDENT:
Likewise, the President wears a lot of hats in our government, but one of them is to nominate justices to the federal courts. Since the federal courts are the most powerful branch of government (they can tell the president “No!” and he must obey—at least for now) make sure you take that into account.
Finally. State judges. Have you ever struggled to figure out how to vote for judges on the ballot? I have. Let me give you a few simple methods to evaluate judges, depending on which system your state uses. Nine times out of ten it will help you quickly figure out how to vote.
In most states, judges are usually initially appointed by the governor or legislature, and then they stand for re-election by the voters in retention elections. Since the courts have become so extremely politicized, vote for each judge based on whether you tend to agree or disagree with the views of the person or body that initially appointed them. Look up the year they were appointed and either who was governor at the time, or which party controlled the state legislature. If the judge was appointed by a Republican, the judicial candidate is more likely to interpret law in light of the original intent of the Constitution of that state. If the judge was appointed by a Democrat, the judicial candidate is more likely to interpret the law in light of how they feel the Constitution of that state should be interpreted based how they view the current cultural norms. In other words, this latter group is far more likely to “legislate” their views from the bench.
In states that have partisan elections, it’s pretty easy to figure out, in general terms, where each judge stands ideologically based on party affiliation. In states that have nonpartisan elections find out what individuals or ideological groups have contributed to their campaigns or endorsed them. Also consider who did not endorse them.
Now, you are probably thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time to apply these criteria to every candidate I have to vote for!” Unless you are retired, or a political analyst, you are correct. So here is my best advice. Ask 5 to 10 like-minded friends to join with you (your church would probably be a good place to find such people). Each person can take 1-2 candidates and thoroughly research them and prepare a written review. Then send it out to every member of your group. Finally, find a time for everyone to get together to talk about each candidate and ask questions. Now you can vote wisely without having to do all the work yourself.
I strongly recommend iVoterGuide.com as a resource to help you evaluate candidates. They apply the exact same grid to every candidate, so it gives you a great comparative analysis. And, unlike most candidate rating systems, they do not weight votes in order to manipulate their ratings. As long as iVoterGuide.com continues to work hard to use the exact same grid for every candidate, I will continue recommending them. If they ever stop, I will let you know as soon as I know.
I leave you with words my sister-in-law often uttered whenever her kids walked out the front door, “Make wise choices.”
Copyright ©2024 Brad Bright