Take the Science Rising Challenge to Build Voter Power

February 5, 2020 | 11:09 am
Photo: Mike Olliver
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

We are months away from Election Day, and there is tremendous uncertainty about what lies ahead. False advertising/lying on Facebook, voter purges, and mind-boggling spending pollute the daily conversation and turn people away. But these are precisely the times when science supporters are building resiliency into the election process, and the new Science Rising Challenge has a bunch of methods for you to plug in.

Let’s start at the voting booth. Voting is still the bedrock of democracy. That’s why it will always be a battleground, and why some will fight so hard to disenfranchise others whom they think won’t support their party or candidate.

We created the Science Rising Challenge to make it easy for anyone to register and make a plan to vote. And once you have your own affairs in order, the challenge also provides other opportunities to participate in our democracy in your community or on your campus. (We also have activities and roles for those not eligible to vote but want to enfranchise others and raise the profile of science in this election cycle).

Science supporters building electoral power

We know that navigating this space can be difficult, especially for first-time voters or those who have recently moved. Each state has a different set of laws, rules, and deadlines. And voter suppression laws specifically targeted at students, Native American communities, and other communities of color can further disenfranchise and make it difficult for everyone to exercise their rights.

Yet despite direct attacks on student enfranchisement, there was a huge increase in student voting from 2014 to 2018. Youth-led climate and anti-gun violence movements are developing sophisticated and powerful infrastructure to turn out the vote. And we are going to do our best to ensure that scientists and science supporters show up in massive numbers. This is especially important because STEM majors vote less frequently than their peers.

Elections matter at multiple levels

So much attention is paid to the one person who will take the oath of office on the Capitol Steps on Inauguration Day. But a president is just one small part of a greater story. Federal, state, and local elections determine how we allocate resources and who gets a voice in societal decisions that effect all of us. Our ability to solve the complex environmental and public health challenges of our time will hinge on the leaders we elect and the people they choose to serve in their governments.

In 2014, I ran for local elected office in Washington, DC. In that first election, after a recount, I lost by one vote. I still remember the averted glances of a few neighbors who, for one reason or another, didn’t make it to the polls.

This is our opportunity

We hear a lot about the bad news: ill-prepared and underfunded elections offices, false claims of voter fraud, and incessant social media bots. Yet people are responding in inspiring ways, realizing that strong local networks can help overcome these vulnerabilities. The science community is increasingly awake and engaged. There is a surge in energy and momentum for science-based decision-making.

Big election years bring risks, but also profound opportunities to build power and shape conversations. Participation in the Science Rising Challenge will give you so much more than an “I Voted” sticker. It will help you understand power dynamics in your community, provide you with opportunities to improve the civic-mindedness of science supporters, and grant you the ability to enfranchise those around you.

Now take the first step.