Can there be any doubt that this election cycle has been unlike any other that we have seen in many years? Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we are told, have had historically unfavorable ratings, and have engendered stronger dislike than past candidates. And some observers remark that these two candidates have succeeded in polarizing our country to a greater extent than it was before the primaries began.
The net result of the daily barrage of stories about one or the other candidate is that it has sucked all of the air out of the whole election process. So much attention has been paid to the race for president that other important issues and races have largely been ignored, overlooked or unnoticed.
In the few short days before Election Day, we would do well to make sure that we have a fuller picture of our responsibility as Catholic voters, as "Faithful Citizens," to use the phrase of the U.S. bishops. Here are some suggestions for making final preparations to vote.
Pay attention to the "down ballot" races. These are the other races for elected office that appear on the ballot and they are just as important, and in many ways more important, than the race for president. For example, each of the counties in the diocese will be electing a district attorney. The policies of the district attorney will have an effect on our prison system, our approach to restorative justice, and the community relations in our neighborhoods.
"All politics is local." This phrase reminds us that many of the legislative decisions that affect our lives are made locally. For example, our state senators and State Assembly members during the coming session will be voting on issues that affect life, dignity and the common good.
Thankfully, we have the work of the New York State Catholic Conference to help us sort out what our Church teaches. By using the "Issues" menu on their website at nyscatholic.org, we can see articles on abortion, wages and assisted suicide, among many others. We can then examine the positions or voting record of those running for State Senate and Assembly.
Remember the "checks and balances" of our political system. Many of us sometimes forget the civics lessons about the three branches of government and their functions. Much has been made in this election about the possibility of the next president appointing at least one justice to the Supreme Court. Remember that any appointee must be approved by the Senate. That means that your vote for senator is just as important in the process of who sits on the Supreme Court as who becomes president.
Finally, never underestimate the importance of prayer. I know that so many of us pray before we vote, but I would add another facet to our prayer - an examination of conscience of sorts. In particular, we should reflect deeply on our own motivations for supporting candidates to ensure that we are not approaching the election with any narrow, self-serving interests. The U.S. bishops remind us in "Faithful Citizenship" that, "As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to any political party or interest group."
The decisions facing us are not easy, but making them is a moral responsibility. May the Spirit guide all of us to choose wisely.