COLUMN: Voting doesn’t have to be divisive

There is no shortage of hot-button issues for voters to consider when going to the polls this election season, but that does not mean they have to do irreparable harm to your relationships.

Voters nationwide are noticeably divided on issues of inflation, economic stability and abortion. As political polarization has built steam in recent years, it has become commonplace for political leanings to negatively affect personal relationships. A New York Times/Siena College survey found that 14% of voters believed political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, and almost 1 in 5 said political disagreements had damaged relationships with friends or family.

In a 2020 NPR story, Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said that according to the organization’s research, political polarization has become more acrimonious than any other point in modern history. Nearly 80% of Americans now have “just a few” or no friends at all across the political divide.

In its purest definition, democratic voting is not intended to be an overtly emotional exercise. The point of giving every legally eligible citizen the vote is that, ostensibly, they would support candidates that benefit themselves and the public good.

 As a registered voter and someone who considers themselves aware of important issues, I also fully understand that not everyone entering a voting booth shares the same values and opinions I do. In social and professional situations, I do not go out of my way to start debate as political differences can build barriers between casual acquaintances and close confidants alike. Even the most passive of people understand the level of polarization that has become synonymous with American politics.

What has been lost, it seems, is that it is acceptable to have differences that do not necessarily cripple relationships. 

Do you feel vindicated to vote against your perceived opponents? Relieved because you would feel guilty if you did not? Disappointed because you know your vote is incongruent with others in your life?

 Just as your life experiences influence who you vote for, they affect how you view the electoral process. Living in a metropolitan area your entire life is just as likely to prompt your political stances as growing up in the small and often ethnically homogeneous towns that dominate Illinois outside of Chicagoland. 

Could someone disagree with you and turn out to be a bad person? Of course. But just as I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the privilege of participating in a democratic election — as fraught as that concept is these days — try not to let your ballot disproportionately affect other parts of your life.

If you are not registered and want to take advantage of the opportunity to vote, you can register online here. Conveniently, if you are not sure where to vote, you can search online to find your nearest polling place.

All told, do what you feel best about for yourself and, if you do vote, for the people around you, even if they disagree with you. Early and absentee voting is open now, and Election Day is Nov. 8.