A Primer on USA Politics

My oldest daughter turns 18 this year. (Yikes!) Unfortunately, her birth date falls just short of eligibility to vote in our upcoming Presidential Election (she is very disappointed). However, this “coming-of-age” in our household has opened up a new and lively conversation. We are now officially “talking politics” as a family. We are studying the basic processes of The United States of America, the candidates, and the issues. As faithful Latter-day Saints, this also gives us a chance to contemplate our civic duties from a religious and spiritual perspective. In my search for ideas to share at the dinner table, and during our Monday Family Night, I happened across a really interesting article entitled “A Primer on Politics” published in the LDS Church youth magazine “The New Era” (geared towards youth age 12-21). This article was written in 1971 which was an important year in US History when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. I thought it would be nice to share this article (it’s a quick read). For my USA visitors, perhaps you know of a new voter who would benefit from these pointers, or it can serve as a welcome “refresher course”! ;) For my International readers, this gives you a little overview of the USA political system. And for all, this provides a good basic Latter-day Saint (Mormon) perspective of politics and government. To enhance your reading, I am even providing a patriotic tune by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as accompaniment! Enjoy!

Listen: God Bless America

A Primer on Politics

by D. James Cannon – New Era, Oct 1971, page 20

This year in the United States the eighteen-year-old person gets to vote. Millions of new voters can now go to the polls, and they should learn some basics about how to do it. Many members of the Church in other countries are also voting beginning at age eighteen.

No matter where you live or what the voting requirements are, as a Latter-day Saint you want to show the world that you are a responsible citizen. To help you be a more effective participant in government affairs, here is a brief primer on politics. The details relate to the U.S. scene, but the overall principles and suggestions are applicable anywhere.

1. What We Believe

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in good politics and good government and in the right of people to exercise their franchise. There is an entire section in the Doctrine and Covenants on the subject:

“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that He holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. …such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people. …” (D&C 134:1, 3.)

2. Your Eligibility to Vote

Note that the Lord has said that it is your duty to find people who “will administer the law in equity and justice.” You can do this only if you get involved and if you make sure that you are eligible to vote. Consider these questions:

What should I do first?

Go immediately to your county clerk and find out how to register. While there, get information about your local voting rules and regulations. For example, in one state (and this is typical of many), you must be (1) a U.S. citizen; (2) a resident of the state for six months; (3) a resident of the county for sixty days; and (4) at least 18 years of age before election day.

Why should I vote this time?

There are three reasons why you should vote now and every time: (1) Every vote counts. (2) Every election is important. (3) The Lord has reminded you of your responsibility for “the good and safety of society.”

What’s the big hurry?

The political process begins a long time before the ballot is actually cast. If you wait, two things can happen: (1) you’ll miss this year’s political campaign and you’ll miss considering the issues that affect your life, and (2) delay could leave you with no choice as to the finalists.

3. Your Involvement in the Process

The political process is something you must learn about in order to become a wise voter and a more responsible citizen. Often in public elections, particularly local ones, there will be issues as well as candidates voted on. Here are several points to help you understand the system.

1. Election Years. Generally, municipal or city elections in the U.S. are held in odd-numbered years. In even-numbered years elections for county, state, and national offices are held. There are also elections for school boards and referendums on bond issues and special district questions held on various other occasions.

2. Parties. In the U.S. there are two major political parties—Republican and Democratic. Sometimes a third party will appear on the ballot by way of protest or special concern. Find out the kinds of people who are active in the parties and why. Also find out what the party platform is.

3. Attend your mass meetings, if your state has them. Find out when and where, and attend! Your choice is limited at the polls by the decisions made by others unless you get involved at the grass-roots level.

4. Know the issues. Discover what is being discussed. See if there are other issues that ought to be included. Don’t consider just one point of view. Learn, consider, pray for guidance. Casting a vote is far more serious than many people realize.

5. Know the candidates. Equally important, know the people around the candidates. Encourage good men and women to enter politics and work to help them. Organize political discussion groups. Consider now taking your turn as a candidate or party worker when the time is right.

6. Familiarize yourself with voting and political terminology and procedure. Does your locality use a voting machine? Do you know how to mark a ballot? What if you make a mistake? Who are the officers in your local party organizations?

7. Become active in politics. Do volunteer work at party headquarters. Contribute financially to a party and/or deserving candidates. Ask to be assigned to the team of a suitable candidate. Think of ways to get out the vote and work with your local level party leaders.

8. Finally, help destroy the myth that “politics are dirty.”The fact is: politics are essential. The Lord has stressed that we ought to be concerned and involved in promoting good government. You simply have to realize that the political process is the way to attain that objective.

Remember you’ve got to do more than talk about politics. You’ve got to vote and act intelligently.

4. Glossary of Terms

Grass roots—where the political process starts: in the neighborhood. Perhaps a small political discussion group will “start the ball rolling.”

Mass meetings—neighborhood gatherings held in some states to choose county and state delegates and to organize each voting district.

Precinct, district—names given to the local area for political organization.

Party worker—you, if you’re willing to get involved. Beware that you don’t attach a “mystique” to someone who is engaged in party affairs.

Platform—a political party’s position paper on issues. Its viewpoint is expressed on each item.

Issue—something of current interest and concern. As a citizen you have a right to identify issues that concern you.

Party headquarters—the main office of a political party.

Politician—generally a person who has been elected and appointed to office, but also all those associated with elected and appointed officials. A special note: this is a good title.

Candidate—the person who declares his willingness to seek political office.

Campaign contribution—finances for an election. Every candidate needs money. Contribute. Don’t leave the financing job to “special interests.”

Nomination—to appoint or propose for appointment to an office or place. A candidate needs to be nominated in some way by the voice of the people, either by another person or by petition.

Petition—a collection of signatures advocating a certain proposal. A potential candidate may need your signature on a form endorsing his candidacy.

Political convention—a large gathering to choose candidates, held at county, state, and national levels.

Primaries—the first general election, usually where half or more of the candidates are eliminated by the voice of the people. Therefore, this election is very important.

Franchise—your right to vote based on eligibility.

Registration—the process of signing in with the county clerk, who will usually provide a time and place in your neighborhood for registration before every election.

Polls, polling place—the place of voting for either a primary or a final election. Find out where it is and the hours it is open.

Ballot—the paper you mark (or the machine marks at your bidding) regarding your preferences on candidates and ballot proposals.

Scratching—a process of marking your ballot for the [candidate] rather than for the party. (Point: you can do this in the final election but usually not in the primary election. Find out.)

Referendum—an issue that has been placed on the ballot by petition (often a proposed amendment to the state constitution).

Accountability—what God expects of you. (See D&C 134.)

2 thoughts on “A Primer on USA Politics

  1. One of the interesting things I think we learn from the controversial 2000 Florida mess is that every vote really does count. There are high school elections that are decided by wider margins. After the official counts ended, some media groups did their own re-counts. They found that if you used Gore’s preferred method of counting, Bush won by something less than 200 votes I think. If you used Bush’s preferred method of counting, Gore won—by a single vote. Every vote really does count.

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