While casting a vote on November 8 is the primary way that an American citizen can contribute to the democratic process, volunteering affords caregivers and their loved ones additional opportunities to participate in local and presidential elections.
Whether you are lending support to a particular candidate or helping man the polls on Election Day, there are many benefits to offering your time during an election:
- As a volunteer, you will get the chance to meet like-minded people from your community. You may be able to expand your ever-important social support system by forging friendships with fellow volunteers that will last beyond the outcome of the election.
- You may be able to tap into the so-called "helper's high"—the rush of positive feelings that come from aiding others in need or contributing to a cause that you believe in.
- It is an excuse to get out of the house. Seniors benefit greatly from this time limited volunteer opportunity that solidifies their civic duty. And caregivers get some time away from caregiving. Many caregivers become so consumed with taking care of their aging loved ones that they can't see themselves as anything other than a caregiver. Volunteering can be a healthy reminder of your value outside of the caregiving sphere. Remember, you are so much more than a care provider.
- Campaign for Your Candidate
Already know who you will be voting for in November? Every campaign welcomes people who are willing to advocate and share their candidate's positions on the issues. Campaign volunteers do everything from stuffing envelopes and posting campaign fliers, to calling voters on Election Day and getting them to go to the polls. You can visit each candidate's website for more information on how to become an official volunteer.
- Lobby for a Cause
Even if you are undecided, you can still help spread the word about a certain cause you feel strongly about. Volunteer lobbyists work to convince lawmakers to enact legislation that aids their particular cause or organization. You can lobby on behalf of a variety of different interest groups, including charities, labor unions, universities, environmental activists, religious organizations and even senior citizens groups.
- Get People Registered
Only an estimated 70 percent of voting-age Americans were registered to vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center. As a volunteer, you can get involved in a program that helps eligible citizens register to vote. A variety of campaigns exist that are aimed at getting people to complete a voting registration form—and some don't even require you to leave the house to participate. Encourage your friends and family to register as well!
- Work a Poll
If you are registered to vote in a particular county or state, you may qualify to help out at your local polling place on Election Day. Although they may have a variety of different assignments available throughout the day, the ultimate purpose of a poll worker is to facilitate the efficient, fair operation of the polling station. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, poll workers can be called upon to set up and take down voting equipment, help voters navigate the voting process, pass out ballots, make sure only registered voters cast votes, and—after the polls close for the day—make sure all election materials are ready to be transported to the central election office. Depending on which state you live in, you may even be able to help your fellow caregivers and seniors vote by delivering ballots to people who must remain in their cars. You can visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website for more information about becoming a poll worker.
Yes, volunteering requires time and energy—two things that many caregivers already have in short-supply. However, election season offers such a wide variety of volunteer activities that it is possible for even a mobility restricted senior or a busy caregiver to find a way to contribute. If you do decide to donate your efforts, make sure to set limits on how much time you are willing to give. Alert the volunteer coordinator of your time constraints so they will not overwhelm you with tasks.
If you decide to involve an elder, inform the volunteer coordinator of their physical and cognitive abilities. Banding together to support a cause you both care about can be a great way for the two of you to bond.