What's a ballot initiative?
Ballot initiatives are a form of direct democracy. They are vehicles through which a petition signed by registered voters can force a public vote on a proposed statute, constitutional amendment, charter amendment or ordinance. They are the way that citizens can most directly influence politics at the state and local level.
Sometimes, ballot initiatives are not beneficial to a state. They are often deceptively named, which confuses voters as to what position the legislation takes. While most people can now recognize that “defense of marriage” initiatives are anti-LGBT, some proposed initiatives such as proposed “voter identification” rules continue to baffle voters.
While there are many important ballot initiative campaigns taking place this year, we have highlighted a few to watch during the next several months. These particular issues are bound to be raised in the national election as well, so take a look! Your state may have similar initiatives on the ballot; find out what they are and when the voting takes place, and get out to the polls!
Guidelines for Working on Ballot Initiatives
Nonprofit organizations CAN legally engage in work on ballot initiatives. According to the Alliance for Justice, generally a nonprofit can:
- Publicly endorse or oppose ballot measures;
- Propose ballot measures;
- Draft language for ballot measures;
- Organize volunteers to gather signatures on petitions;
- Send staff to gather signatures or conduct other ballot measure campaign work;
- Contribute money to ballot measure campaigns;
- Host ballot measure campaign events in their facilities; and
Download guidelines on how you can legally engage in this work!
Here are some nonpartisan web sites where you can track ballot initiatives that are moving in your state:
- Ballotpedia - This site is citizen-powered. It aims to be an abundant and growing source of information on citizen initiatives, ballot access, petition drives, initiatives and referendums for political change, recall elections, school district bond issues and associated subjects.
National Conference of State Legislatures - NCSL keeps a frequently updated data base that lists ballot initiatives
Politics is often taken to be a dirty word, but political processes are simply the way communities organize their common life. For people of faith, public policy is never merely politics. It is a way of living out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is fitting for local congregations and church structures across the country to develop nonpartisan programs to help the faith community reflect upon the political order. The Our Faith Our Vote Campaign is designed to help you discover the ways in which you, as an individual and as a congregation, can get involved in the political process.
Our country is in crisis in many ways. It is time for well minded, engaged and faithful people to speak out and get involved in the political process. Let's go public with our faith! We'll show you how!
Guidelines for Congregations and Clergy on Political Action
Because the political activities of churches are limited due to their IRS Tax exempt Status, it is important to know what your rights are. This guide will help you understand what kind of activities UCC churches can undertake to raise our voices in the elections in ways that are legally protected. Download.
- “IRS Code Prohibitions on Political Campaign Interventions,” Memo from UCC Office of General Council.
- "Consequences of Losing Tax-Exempt Status," Memo from UCC Office of General Council.
- See full IRS Guidelines
The first phase of the Our Faith Our Vote campaign is to launch a voter registration drive at your church. Our goal is to have every eligible voter at your UCC church registered and voting. The publicity that your voter registration effort receives in the church will likely spark a conversation about the importance of expressing our faith through civic participation and getting your church members out to vote. Download.
Observe National Voter Registration Day on September 22, 2020!
- Check out our voter registration tips.
- Register to vote.
While it's true that churches as 501(c)3 organizations cannot support or oppose a candidate for political office, there are many ways to appropriately and faithfully engage in dialog about the issues at stake. For examples, check out our issue briefs on campaign financing, immigration, mountain top removal, etc. Download.
Organize a Candidate Forum
Many people do not vote because they don't feel connected to the candidates or the issues at stake in an election. Holding candidate forums helps open up the communication between candidates and their constituents and gets people interested in an election. Where better than your church to hold an open dialog? Think about the officials running for office in your community. This guide can help you plan an event that makes sense for your church, whether it be a full fledged debate or a coffee hour with the candidates. Download.
An average election in the United States has around 60% of the eligible voting population turning out at the polls. There are a variety of reasons that people don’t get out and vote: their job schedule does not allow it, they are away and didn’t apply for an absentee ballot, disillusionment with the political atmosphere, among others. With the rise in popularity of suppressive voting legislation, we may see an even lower turnout than normal in this election. What can we do to get out the vote?
Colleges are the perfect place to engage people about the elections. By working on a campus you can work with students, professors, and the community at large to develop creative and effective ways both to encourage voter registration and increase voter participation. The campaign can serve as a focal point for common discourse, promote the vital responsibility of citizenship and enhance the role of the campus as a setting where ideas and issues are openly and vigorously debated. No where else will you find more energy and passion than on a college campus. Check out our College page for some ideas. Learn more.
Youth bring a unique perspective and tangible energy to election year activism. Although young people under 18 may not be able to legally cast their votes, their voices can still be heard. There are a number of ways for youth to participate in elections and make an impact on their future. This guide contains some to get you started. Download.
Restoring the Voice of the People
The United Church of Christ's Our Faith Our Vote Campaign is designed to engage the faith community in elections. We engage participants in voter registration drives and candidate forums that get to the heart of the issues we care about.
Discerning the role of the church in politics has been a historically strong part of the UCC and our predecessor bodies. UCC General Synod resolutions and policy statements have spoken to the qualifications for the Office of the President of the U.S. (1960); ethics in public life and conflicts of interest among public office holders (1967) lobbyist disclosure (1977), and of course, a myriad of public issues that are decided on by elected officials at the local, state and national levels.
Our Faith Our Vote work is being done across the U.S., as churches seek to faithfully respond to the call of a God who is still speaking.
Words of Inspiration: A letter of introduction
For people of faith, the public arena we know as “politics” represents much more than the partisan politicking we see on the news. It is a means by which we live out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture reminds us over and over that building right relationship in human community and with God’s creation is an act inseparable from our relationship with God. So it is important for faith communities to engage in nonpartisan voter education and empowerment programs that help us reflect on our collective life and work to uplift the common good through the political process.
The 2020 election cycle has already stirred strong interest, concern and response across the United States, and indeed, throughout the world. That is not surprising, for these are difficult, complex and challenging times and there is much at stake as we head to the voting booth this November.
At the same time, we face great challenges to the democratic process itself. Voters will go to the polls in November without key protections contained in the Voting Rights Act since a 2013 Supreme Court ruling significantly rolled it back. And the disproportionate influence of money in campaigns threatens to drown out the voice of the average voter. An almost unprecedented level of divisive and heated rhetoric dominates the airwaves and the public dialogue. A substantive, thoughtful, respectful exchange across differences on the key issues of the day is becoming harder and harder to achieve. This is precisely why our voice and efforts as people of faith are needed. We can play a unique role in this election cycles by encouraging civil, respectful, informed dialogue that builds community and a hope-filled vision of the future that includes all people. We can help restore the soul of democracy.
The UCC Our Faith Our Vote resource provides information and ideas to assist individuals and congregations in developing nonpartisan and meaningful ways to engage the political and electoral process. We must equip ourselves and our communities to make informed, thoughtful decisions about those who will lead us in the future. The Our Faith Our Vote campaign is one way to do just that, and we hope you will join this effort in 2020.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Traci Blackmon
Acting Executive Minister
UCC Justice and Witness Ministers
Sandy Sorensen currently serves as Director of the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Washington, DC office. Sandy has served in a variety of capacities in her over 20 years of experience in the national setting of the United Church of the Christ, including work in communications and policy advocacy on civil rights, justice for women and media access. Sandy received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Grinnell College and went on to earn her Master of Divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School in 1990.
Not 18? You can still make your voice heard!
Just because you're not old enough to vote doesn't mean you can't be involved in the elections. In fact youth voices are needed more than anything in politics. Throughout history, political leaders have looked to young people as a source of inspiration. Elected officials love to talk about what youth "want" or "need." In the elections, let's speak for ourselves.
There are a number of ways to get involved in the elections and make an impact on our country's future. Get together with your youth group and engage your local congregation and community. Here's some ideas from OFOV:
Just because you can't vote doesn't mean others shouldn't. Sometimes people just need to be reminded that it is their privilege and their duty to vote. Jog their memory and sign them up!
- Set up a voter registration table before and after church.
- Register people at church suppers, coffee houses and other events.
- Go out into your community and register voters at the local shopping center, grocery store, fair, baseball game, etc.
- Encourage your school administration to hold a registration drive or include voter registration cards with high school diplomas.
- Plan a coffee house or a concert. Not only will this provide an opportunity for your buddy's band to perform in front of a live audience, it will provide you with a room full of people ready to register to vote.
- In the weeks leading up to the elections, invite your congregation to a series of movie screenings. You can show fun elections related films or serious documentaries on issues you're interested in - However you want to do it! Set up a location, invite your congregation, pop some popcorn and get them signed up to vote!
Get Out the Vote
- If you have a license, volunteer to drive individuals to the polls. You've finally got your license - put it to good use!
- Organize or participate in phone banking or canvassing.
- Volunteer to provide child care or to walk peoples' dogs while they vote.
- Make signs and put them up around town reminding your community to go to the polls. Maybe even put an election day countdown outside your church!
Want more ideas?
Check out our resources for college students!
Youth Ministries or Sunday School
Do you lead the youth in your congregation or teach Sunday School classes? Why not use that as an oppertunity for discussion. Here are some sample questions to get you started.
- Why do you think voting is important? Why do you think some people don't vote?
- Who is running for office and what do you think they stand for?
- How do you believe people should be treated in our society?
- What things do people need to live a good life?
- What are a few local, national, and international problems (that you see on TV or in the newspaper), and what can we do to help solve them?
- What are some examples of public policies from that past that were harmful to people (e.g. slavery, the Holocaust, lack of voting rights for women and minorities)? What does our faith or ethics tell us about these policies?
- What are issues being discussed in the campaigns that have moral or ethical dimensions (e.g. hunger, environmental protection and education)? Explain both sides of the debate.
- What did Jesus say about taking responsibility for our society?
- Can you name some New or Old Testament figures who were part of the political debate of their time? (Moses and the law, the prophets, etc.)
- Have a "Love Your Neighbor: Vote" poster contest in your church or community, or ask youth to create posters or fliers that inform their congregation and community about the upcoming elections.
- Create an "investigating political reporter sheet" and have youth interview family, congregation, or community members with several questions: Have you ever voted? Are you registered to vote? Did you vote in the last election? Do you plan to vote in this election? Is it important we vote? If so, why? What issues concern you? Which presidential candidate do you think best represents your views? Why?
- Become media watchdogs and examine election coverage. Use our Media Monitoring guide.
We don't have all the answers! Check out the work of the following organizations. This list gives some of the organizations and websites that staff of the UCC refer to when we receive election-related information requests from our members.
Voter Registration and Get-Out-the-Vote information
- National Campaign for Fair Elections
- Federal Election Commission
- League of Women Voters [resouces in Spanish]
- Project Vote
- Vote 411
- APIA Vote [Information targeted at Asian and Pacific Islander Voters]
Youth and Young Adults
- Rock the Vote
- United States Student Association
- Vote Latino
- Future Majority [Progressive Youth Blogs on Politics]
- The League of Young Voters
Faith-Based Voter Projects
Voting Policy and Reform