BARNA: 8 Ways to Reinvigorate Our Electoral Process
I encourage you to immediately embark on a healthy change. Not in your diet, although that might be valuable. And not in your spiritual regimen, although that might also be life-changing.
It is time for each of us to reconsider how we think about and engage in electoral politics.
Consider the mess we are in politically. According to recent national surveys by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, commissioned by AmericasOne, two-thirds of Americans (65%) are proud of their country. Yet, we are also wary, frustrated and even angry (73%) about our political process, and closer to nine out of 10 adults believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. Overwhelming majorities contend that our leading political parties are out-of-touch and self-serving; that elected officials in Washington are corrupt, incompetent, unduly influenced by major donors, not trustworthy — and self-serving. According to three out of every four voters our political system is not to blame; the problem is the bad actors abusing that system to advance their personal interests at the expense of the public interest.
You don’t have to dig deep to find the dysfunctions in our elections. Consider the vicious attacks between Democrats and Republicans, many of which become personal. The partisan, mainstream media continually pushes an ideological narrative under the guise of “objective news.” Megadonors exercise undue influence on voting, skirting contribution limits through PACs and other means, buying access and favors in the process. Factual reports of election cheating and abuse are widespread.
Will the 2024 election deliver tangibly different processes and outcomes? Politicians will talk about systemic changes but have no vested interest in transforming the game; that task is left to the people. In order to improve the quality of leadership, we-the-people must aggressively alter how we conceive and carry out our part in the election process. Here is a brief outline of eight steps, supported by most Americans (based on the America’s Values Study by the Cultural Research Center and AmericasOne), that we can take to introduce serious, positive reform.
- Take Control
Act like an owner of the republic — because you are! Government works for you. Refuse to be treated like an ignorant, powerless subject of royalty. This is not England in the 18th century. Our forefathers sacrificed everything to escape abusive rule. They owned the process and built a great nation. It is our job to maintain the freedom and authority to sustain that great country. Indifference or fear will destroy the nation. We must show some backbone and wisdom.
- You Are a Political Principal
Citizenship demands that you play an active role in the political life of the nation. Carry out that role with Colossians. 3:23 in mind — do everything with excellence, as if you are serving the Lord! Act responsibly: do your homework regarding how the process works (and your related responsibilities), the nature of the candidates, and the implications of proposed policies. Make choices that reflect who you are (i.e., your worldview and values) and the kind of country you want for your family. Go beyond voting; be an apologist and influencer for a community and nation that will honor God.
- Redefine Election Success
Successful elections are more than simply placing candidates in office. Successful elections are those where an informed electorate clarifies its vision and values and elects ethical servants who will embody those attributes. Selecting leaders who run in order to serve the people is vital. Party dominance, candidate positioning, and other outcomes are sideshows that fail to advance the good of the community.
- Prioritize the Family
Family is God’s primary cultural institution. View every aspect of the electoral and governance process through the lens of how it affects our families. Carefully examine the values, morals, worldview, and political practices and proposals of every candidate in relation to their impact on our families.
- Identify the Candidates
Parties have largely failed to offer us viable candidates. Candidates elevated by special interests tend to serve those special interests rather than the people. Professional politicians learn to play the system for the benefit of self and friends. It is time to remove the media, parties, and major donors from the candidate selection process. The leaders to encourage to run are those who seek office as an act of sacrifice and service, committing to truth and transparency as fundamental operating principles.
- Demand a Compelling Vision
Perhaps the most conspicuous fault of most recent candidates has been the absence of a compelling vision for the nation. Vision is the hallmark of every good leader and the framework for their plan of action. The failure to propose any course of action without relation to the larger vision is indefensible. Voters should automatically reject any candidate who is incapable or unwilling to articulate a realistic and compelling vision for our nation.
- Understand Their Values
Every elected official is true to their values; the challenge to voters is to dig deeply enough to identify them. Once we know what makes a candidate tick, then we can determine whether their values parallel ours, which would give us confidence that they will represent us well. Every candidate’s life is a reflection of their values; the more we understand who they are, the more we will comprehend their values system and what kind of leader they will be.
- Hold Officials Accountable
We need transparent measurement of critical factors to find and retain servant leaders who pursue our vision and reflect our values. We would benefit from a regular stream of new measures that compare leaders’ behaviors to the vision and values we elect them to represent. Such a treasury of information will also make future voting choices more obvious.
The 2024 election cycle is already in progress. We want improvements, but how will they occur if you and I do not transform the process? After all, nothing changes if nothing changes. You and I must be the agents of positive, transformative change.
George Barna is a Senior Research Fellow at FRC's Center for Biblical Worldview.