How to vote in an election season

 
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For most Australian school students, a trip to Parliament House in Canberra is an event long remembered. Its grand architecture, and a growing understanding of the decisions that are made within those walls leave a lasting impression. I, and many 12-year-olds like me, stood in awe of this, Australia’s “home of democracy”.

Fast forward a few years, and at 18 we are finally granted the privilege to cast our own votes in federal and state elections. But on reflection, the years between often leave us unprepared for the moment we step into the world of politics. We’ve seen the house, but are unsure whether we’ve got the key to the door—and if we do, how to use it.

How do I vote? Who do I vote for? What am I going to base my decisions on come election day? These were all questions I—and many like me, I am sure—had to face as a young adult.

Now, more than a decade on, and with another Australian federal election looming, I am faced with similar questions. So, I recently set out to discover a little more about how I, as a Christian, should vote this election. I didn’t want an answer to the unanswerable question of “Who should Christians vote for?” but rather, “How can Christians best prepare and cast their vote?” Even if you’re not a Christian, some of what I discovered might help you to think through your voting process.

What does the Bible say?

As the foundation of Christian faith and practical living, the Bible seemed like a good place to start my journey towards polling day. But, it was quickly apparent that the Bible definitely does not make it clear who to vote for. It does, however, offer some useful insights into how we should make a choice on election day:

  • Be a good steward: One of the most fundamental values given to humans by God in the Bible is that of stewardship—we are to look after the things that God has given us. Reading 1 Peter 4:10 highlights that as citizens of a free, democratic country which allows us to vote for our leaders, we can—and should—exercise our stewardship by using our vote well.
  • Promote respect: We should honour and respect our leaders—even if we don’t agree with their politics. In Romans 13, Paul writes to the early Church in Rome, reminding them of God’s ultimate control, the role of government and how a respectful response by Christian citizens will continue to reflect the character of God.

I sent an email

Within about 10 minutes of sitting at my laptop one evening, I had gathered the names and contact details of every candidate running in my electorate. Then, I sent each of them an email asking a fairly simple question: “As a voting Christian in your electorate, what should I know in the lead-up to this election?”

Making an enquiry like this to any of your local candidates is easy, and one I would encourage you to do yourself. It’s a good chance to get your feet wet in ‘political engagement’.

A week or so later, I had replies from every candidate. Some were clearly copy-and-paste responses, but all had obviously taken the time to read and understand my email.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get clearance to use any of these responses in this article—but in reality, the process is just as, if not more important, than the result.

If all I had to do was send an email to engage meaningfully with those I was soon to vote for, so can you. And, without the need to seek permission for publication, their insights would no doubt be more meaningful than what I can offer today.

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Policy vs Personality

As I read the emails I had received from my local candidates, and tuned in to the media appearances and campaign emails of more public politicians, I quickly realised the huge role that personality was playing.

In their correspondence and media presence, some candidates presented a strong sense of confidence and dealt easily with curly questions; some had a manner of speaking that I instantly warmed to; and others told stories of family and life I could empathise with.

But then I realised—though I am voting for a person in our political system, I’m not voting for a personality. As much as media drive politics would indicate otherwise, my choices on polling day are about policies that will influence those our nation employs in the years to come. Whether they have a personality that holds my attention is irrelevant.

The most helpful way I have found to create an effective policy vs personality filter is to remove myself from the news cycle, and take the time to read and understand the policy documents available on candidate and party websites.

It’s often dry and occasionally boring (at least in comparison to the razzle dazzle of television news), but if we are going to be good stewards of our vote and ensure we are voting for the policies we most believe in and not the person we most like, it’s an important step to take.

Single issue is an issue

Diving into the policy platforms of each party is an enlightening experience. Sometimes, because you find the pool is next to empty.

In many cases, the political candidates had no outline or explanation of how they would use their position in parliament to influence a whole range of policy concerns—many of them which would impact the majority, if not all Australians (things including the budget, borders and immigration, social services and many others).

This concerns me.

With more and more candidates speaking vocally on hot-button topics, or single issues, but offering no clarity where they stand on other broader issues, we open ourselves to our votes being used in ways we never intended.

Many of these candidates tap into the concerns and cares of voting Christians, but when we cast our vote for them, we will be expressing a view on every other issue as well.

I realised that if I want to vote responsibly, I better know what the consequences of my vote would be across the board—not just for high-profile, single issues, no matter how important they might be to me.

Vote for others

An “appeal to voters” is a phrase you’ll hear regularly in politics. They are promises and commitments political parties and local candidates make in order to sway the opinion of voters.

Most often, these appeals are designed to be seen as beneficial to the voter themselves—reduced taxes, increased spending or new local infrastructure for example.

But is this really “appealing”?

Following another night of policy review, I opened Philippians 2:3, 4 which reads, “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Instead of standing in line on election day in my own shoes, I was challenged to put my feet in the shoes of others—the single father; the asylum seeker; the business owner; the retiree.

Our influence on polling day should be to contribute positively to others. If Jesus gave everything up for me, surely I can put my own interests aside and use my vote as an act of service.

While every party and candidate would suggest their policy is the “best way for the common good” of the country and that helping the underprivileged in Australian society is an important part of their policies, as a faithful voter I need to be discerning about how my vote is really going to benefit others.

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The power of prayer

I’ll admit that throughout this journey I’ve often found myself conflicted. No doubt, you’ve felt the same in the lead up to elections, whether this year or in the past.

There is no perfect party and certainly no perfect candidate. All I can do is my best—and as with the rest of life, my best is often found when my eyes are closed.

In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul offers a timely reminder, writing, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

So, what will the end of the election look like for me? I’m hoping you’ll join my commitment to ensure polling day is preceded by many, many praying days.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 52.1 per cent of Australians identify as Christian. This is down from 70.9 per cent 20 years prior. It is a number that still represents a very large voting block.

However, thoughtful and informed Christians support almost all the parties represented on our electoral ballot (almost all, as there are some more extreme parties whose policies stand in distinct opposition to some of the Christian principles I’ve mentioned).

Despite our differing opinions, I believe we can all use our votes faithfully. A vote that we cast in prayer, by making efforts to be informed and taking time to consider how our vote can create a place that is better for all residents.

 

Braden Blyde is a freelance writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. When not writing, Braden can be found riding bikes or getting outdoors with his family.