SBC Life Articles

Values-based Voting

By the time the polls closed on Election Day 2000, 56 million American adults with the right to vote had not. Over half of those individuals (37.3 million) hadn't even bothered to register to vote.

Those numbers concerned Richard Land and were the impetus behind the development of iVoteValues.com, an initiative to register and educate voters launched by the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land is president of the ERLC.

The goal of the "grassroots voter mobilization and education effort" is to register two million previously unregistered but qualified Americans for the 2004 election cycle. The initiative also will work to promote an awareness of the immediate and long-term importance of "values-based voting." The effort's linchpin: www.iVoteValues.com.

While voter turnout among registered voters in 2000 bounced back from a modern-day low of 82 percent in the presidential contest between Clinton and Dole in 1996 (86 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in 2000), just over 66 percent of Americans who were actually eligible to vote voted in the last presidential election.

Land is also convinced many voters don't consider scriptural precepts when they vote. And a survey of American voters proves his point. Just over a third of Americans say their faith guides their voting decisions, according to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Another study confirmed that most Americans leave their faith out of their voting decisions. Only 39 percent of adults surveyed by the Gallup organization in November 2003 said their personal religious beliefs were very or extremely important in making choices in the polling booth. A similar study by the Pew Forum discovered 38 percent of respondents considered their faith having an impact on how they vote.

Interestingly, the Pew Forum survey found four out of ten Americans (41 percent) believe there has been too little reference to religion by politicians. Twenty-one percent of people said there had been too much reference to religious faith by politicians. Just under a third of those surveyed said there was the "right amount" of expressions of faith and prayer by political leaders.

The biblical footing for iVoteValues.com's call to civic engagement by Christians is solid, according to Land, noting Jesus urges His followers to be "salt" and "light" in the culture. Land says participation in the electoral process should be an important element of every believer's life.

Looking to Scripture, Land is confident God expects Christians to register to vote and vote for the candidates whose positions most closely square with His values. That is the intent of the iVoteValues.com resources, he says, particularly the effort's Web site that allows citizens to begin the voter registration process, details elements of the two major party's platforms, and delineates the Bible's position on many critical issues.

Yet he knows it is an uphill battle to engage that segment of the U.S. adult population that declines to take part in the country's electoral process.

This section of the American public came under scrutiny in the "Vanishing Voter Project" of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where the "public's waning interest in political campaigns" has been examined at length.

The project discovered that in 1960, 60 percent of the nation's televisions tuned in to the October debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy; in 2000, fewer than 30 percent watched the debates between Gore and Bush.

Why the drop-off in interest and the resultant tendency to leave one's faith at home when going into the voting booth? More media alternatives (cable channels); increasingly bitter and longer campaigns; media saturation (24/7 news and analysis on TV and the Internet); diminishing party loyalties; and an increased number of so-call "independent" voters, reports the Harvard-based project.

In a June 2000 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll of Americans who acknowledged they don't usually vote, 44 percent said it wouldn't make much of a difference whether George W. Bush or Al Gore was elected president.

A Census Bureau study after the 1996 election, which saw turnout at record lows, determined the primary reason registered voters didn't vote was because they couldn't take time off from work or were simply too busy.

But Land believes this apathetic behavior is fueled by something other than people having too much to do on Election Day. He says too many people — voters and nonvoters alike — lack appreciation for the fact that one's faith-based values should be impacting their decisions in the voting booth.

Once Americans understand that the Bible has something to say about contemporary issues, and by extension the positions of the candidates, Land believes more Americans will register and vote, and those who already are voting will consider more carefully the policy positions of the candidates.

This is at the core of the iVoteValues.com effort, he insists. It is why well-known figures such as Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council are slated to join Land on visits to key cities for iVoteValues.com rallies this summer. The initiative will be well represented by a specially outfitted iVoteValues.com eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer that will be touring the country to aid in voter awareness and voter registration efforts.

The effort also calls for churches to observe two National Voter Registration Days: Sunday, July 4, and Sunday, September 26 (the final Sunday before the voter registration deadline in most states). iVoteValues.com will provide churches with non-partisan voter registration and voter awareness resources that are well within the Internal Tax code restrictions for 501(c)(3) organizations, explains Land, saying once individuals are registered to vote, statistics show they normally make it to the polls on Election Day.

    About the Author

  • Dwayne Hastings