So you voted. Now what? This is what many friends and relatives ask me after election day this year. Many Montanais seem to have lost the faith that a vote can make a difference in their community.
The great thing about our US system of government is that voting is only a small part of what the average person can do to make a change.
Building on my years as a counselor for candidates and office holders throughout the state of Montana, here are some tips on how the average person can make a difference beyond Election Day:
1: Contact your representatives directly
The popular sentiment seems to be that once a candidate is elected he stops listening to his constituents. On the contrary, the only job of the elect is to represent you. In fact, our federal and state officials have entire departments dedicated to reading and responding to email inquiries, answering phone calls, and connecting voters with people who can help them solve. their problems.
Obviously, statewide officials can’t directly monitor or respond to every request (they have busy schedules!), So you’ll likely be interacting with a staff member. However, don’t think your post won’t make any difference. Staff are paid to help elected officials be effective representatives, and credible interactions provide valuable information on what matters to voters.
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The Montanais are fortunate to have an even more direct line with local and legislative authorities. The advantage of having a part-time citizen legislature is that most representatives have their email address or phone number listed on the legislative website, and they monitor it closely. Reaching out to your local representative directly is a great way to get their attention, raise your concerns, and get to the bottom of an issue.
Second or third-hand accounts of political issues on social media can often be unreliable and intentionally inflammatory. By contacting your representative directly, you give them the possibility of a direct explanation. Chances are they can share important information about an issue that has not been communicated clearly or fairly by others.
2: Aim for a peaceful dialogue
In our polarized political environment, most of the messages our representatives receive are hate mail, filled with insults and threats that lead to nothing. Engaging in impactful ways with your reps requires breaking that vitriol and demonstrating your credibility.
Start by being charitable in your interactions. It’s safe to assume that your rep, like most people, is just trying to do the right thing. Try to approach your local representative as you would a new neighbor. Introduce yourself politely and show genuine interest in their point of view. Perhaps invite them to sit down for a coffee and a long chat. By offering them respect, you will receive it in return and your representative will be more open to what you have to say.
Then do your research and get ready. Representatives have a lot of smart, knowledgeable people competing for their attention. The worn out slogans and passionate hyperbole of social media don’t translate well into constructive information an elected official might find useful. This is one of the reasons why disruptive protests rarely lead to concrete political change. Instead, put your arguments together, gather evidence, and try to focus on communicating your unique perspective on an issue.
In my experience, average Montanais who engage directly and peacefully with their local representatives can really make a difference. But don’t take my word for it, give it a try.
Kendall Cotton is the President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a Helena think tank dedicated to removing government barriers so that all Montanians can thrive.