What do civil engineers have in common with elected officials? The answer is simple: both have a profound effect on the quality of peoples’ lives.
Participating in elections is a fundamental part of our system of government – the most basic feedback you as a constituent can provide to your elected officials. Participating beyond just voting is a great way to meet and get to know your lawmakers. This doesn’t only mean voting on a presidential level. Local elections often provide the easiest way of becoming personally familiar with present and future policy makers.
Important note: ASCE, including all its affiliates (including Sections and Branches), is a 501(c)(3) organization and as such is prohibited from endorsing or supporting candidates for election. Please keep this in mind when becoming involved in election-related activities. For example, when writing to your local newspaper or contributing money or volunteer services to a candidate for public office at any level, you must do so as an individual citizen and NOT as a representative of ASCE. You can visit the IRS website for more information on 501(c)(3) organizations and election-related activities.
Here are ten ways to get involved in elections:
1. Register to vote. Voting is the most important part of the election process. On Election Day, elected officials find out if their constituents believe they’re doing a satisfactory job, or not. Contact your local Registrar of Voters or Board of Elections office to register to vote. In most states, you can register when you renew your driver’s license. Visit http://www.engineeringthevote.org for information on registering to vote.
2. Vote in your state’s primary. Presidential and Congressional primary dates can be found at http://www.engineeringthevote.org Many states require early registration for their primaries so be sure you’re registered in advance.
3. Vote on Election Day. Let your choice be recorded – make sure to vote on Election Day. If you’re not going to be in town to vote in person that day, apply for and send in an absentee ballot.
4. Watch or attend candidate debates. It’s a fast way to become familiar with the issues and to see how the candidates stack up. If you can’t catch them live, check your local cable channels for local races, or C-SPAN for broadcasting of presidential debates.
5. Visit with candidates at Candidate Forums. Campaigns and community groups often hold “Meet the Candidate” events. Forums provide you with an opportunity to learn more about the candidates, meet them personally, ask them questions, or offer your views on important issues. Check candidates’ websites or your local newspaper for upcoming events.
6. Invite candidates to your workplace/jobsite. Give them a tour of the bridge you just built, the dam you designed, or the facility where you research pavement stability. Not only will candidates become more familiar with you, but they’ll get to know more about the civil engineering profession.
7. Gather information on the candidates so you know who your favorites are. If you ask, candidates will often provide you with information about themselves and their viewpoints on the issues. You can also obtain information on state and national candidates from Vote Smart, a voter education project. Visit their website at http://www.vote-smart.org or call 1-888-Vote-Smart. Most candidates also have their own websites.
8. Write to your newspaper about who you feel the best candidate is and why. Once you know who your favorite candidates are, educate others. Publicize your concerns as a civil engineer or interested constituent. (Please see important note above regarding ASCE and elections.) Civil engineers can bridge that knowledge gap many average voters have on infrastructure by explaining the pros and cons of various projects that may be under consideration, or the importance of facility maintenance and upgrades.
9. Give money to your favorite candidate(s). If you don’t have the time to volunteer on a candidate’s campaign, you can donate to the candidate’s campaign fund. In giving to your preferred candidate’s campaign, you may help that candidate to get elected. Please be aware that certain laws regulate campaign contributions. For example, ASCE, as a non-profit organization, is prohibited from both contributing to campaigns and endorsing candidates for public office. You can find guidelines on federal election contributions at http://www.fec.gov
10. Volunteer on a candidate’s campaign. The most valuable thing you can give to a candidate is your time. You can volunteer to help for an hour, a week, or a year – the amount of commitment is up to you. Again, contributions of time or money must be made by individuals and not by representatives of ASCE. Please see important note above.