By Sita Diehl, NAMI Director of State Policy and Advocacy
Today is National Voter Registration Day, meaning there are only a few weeks left for you to register to vote in the 2012 elections.
In the 2008 elections, six million Americans did not vote because they didn’t know how to register or missed the deadline. Far too many people living with mental illness were among them. Their voices weren’t heard.
As an American citizen and mental health advocate who believes in recovery and resiliency from mental illness, I’m doing my part to increase the mental health vote. How about you?
NAMI’s nonpartisan Mental Health Care Gets My Vote! campaign involves three action steps: 1) register to vote; 2) connect with candidates, and 3) make sure to vote!
It’s now only six weeks to Election Day. Early voting by absentee ballots will begin soon in many states. Time is of the essence.
Register to Vote
If you haven’t registered yet, or if you have changed your residence since the last time you voted, now is the time to do it. Becoming a registered voter is easy. You can do it online here, right now.
Voter registration deadlines are coming up within the next two weeks in many states. Because deadlines fall on Columbus Day this year (Oct. 8) seven states require voter registration by COB on Friday, Oct. 6, 2012 and 15 states by COB on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
If you’re already registered, then help others sign up. Forms can be downloaded and mailed or submitted online to your local election commission.
Connect with Candidates
The Presidential race captures the headlines, but state legislators and Congressional legislators are the elected officials who pass laws and budgets that determine who gets what services – and at what cost. Soon after the election, your governor will make critical decisions on Medicaid and private health insurance, which your legislators will act on.
If you aren’t sure who is running, for local, state and federal offices in your area, you can find them at Project Vote Smart.
When you meet candidates on the campaign trail or attend a candidate forum, tell them that you care about mental health care issues and ask them what they think about them. See NAMI’s Mental Health Care Gets My Vote! website for ideas on questions to ask or statements to make (perfect for Tweeting). Learn how to meet with candidates and use NAMI’s Candidate Kit to help them understand why we care so deeply.
Communication channels are wide open through candidate websites, Twitter, Face Book, blogs, radio talk shows or in candidate forums and campaign events.
Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Election campaigns are supposed to stimulate public dialogue on policy issues. As part of the discussion, everyone needs to know what Medicaid and other issues mean for mental health care and the future of our loved ones. If we don’t tell them, no one else will.
Just do it.
Don’t forget or decide at the last minute that you’re “too busy” on Election Day.
The 2012 elections are expected to be close in many states and at many levels. Outcomes will depend on voter turn-out.
Sign NAMI’s Voter Pledge. We’ll send you a quick reminder before Election Day so you’ll be ready to make your vote count. Because many voting districts have changed recently, please also make sure you have updated information on your polling place, hours of operation and voter ID requirements. If you don’t like crowds or have transportation challenges many states allow early voting or absentee ballots.
If we want recovery from mental illness, we have to vote for recovery. Candidates across the political spectrum need to hear that mental health is important for Americans. We can each do our part by registering to vote, by connecting with our candidates stand on NAMI’s issues and by voting on or by Nov. 6, 2012.