Televised presidential debates have been a fixture in American politics since 1960. At best, they are a chance to learn more about how presidential hopefuls will lead, what they believe, and how they debate one another. That said, this election season has been anything but ordinary.
Between the new coronavirus pandemic and the name-calling that erupted during the last presidential debate, it’s pretty understandable why you might want to, well, opt out of the one airing on Thursday, October 22 at 9 p.m. E.T. We’re not advocating that anyone check out of the political process altogether, but if you’d rather not watch two men yell over each other for 90 minutes (with no commercial breaks)—we get it. (FWIW, the debate commission has decided to automatically mute candidates during their opponent’s initial responses. But still.)
To help you think through what to do instead, we’ve asked people about the things they have planned. Whether you use the time to donate, volunteer, or work on your pandemic hobby, we hope you get through this election season informed and equipped to cast your ballot.
1. Read through presidential election voter guides.
If you’re undecided and you didn’t find the other presidential debate and town halls helpful, then consider researching where the candidates stand on issues most relevant to you. Here’s how Biden winning would affect your health, for instance, and how Trump winning again would do the same. You can also do a deep dive on each candidate’s website to read their policy proposals. Major newspapers (like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) have voter guides to help keep you informed. And Jana B., 28, tells SELF that Vote411 is a nonpartisan website that provides information on candidates at federal, state, and local levels. “It even lets you compare candidates’ [stances] on issues,” she explains.
2. Research state and local elections too.
“A lot of good and bad ideas, in the world of federal policy, start at the state and local level,” Rachel Fey, senior director of public policy at Power to Decide, tells SELF. For instance, Fey says that it’s often a local school board or district that determines the day-to-day of your child’s sexual health education. “So it’s important to think of, not just those state and federal elections, but those local elected officials,” Fey says.
Resources like Vote411 have local election information, and you can see if your local newspaper has covered the candidates. “Remember that some of these candidates are also elected officials right now,” Fey explains. “You can look at their record on the issues that matter to you.”
3. Get credible debate information secondhand.
Opting out is “a choice of self-preservation over chaos [for me],” Marietta E., 41, tells SELF, adding that she found the last debate confusing and slightly unsettling. “To expect that there will be a dramatic difference [in the next debate] is to accept that any of this is normal,” she says.
If watching the last debate was more harmful than not, you don’t have to ignore the event entirely. Once it’s over, you can tune in to news analysis, follow a few credible sources on social media like factcheck.org, or you can read articles from an outlet you trust. You’ll still get the major moments that have everyone talking, and you’ll probably get useful context for quips and soundbites. This can help you digest some of the uh, more disturbing moments that are likely to occur.
4. Look into becoming a poll worker.
Each state has its own requirements, but if you’re looking for a way to participate in the political process (beyond voting), see if your state still needs more help. According to the United States Election Assistance Commission, most poll workers are traditionally over 61 years old, which has health implications during the new coronavirus pandemic. So, if you’re feeling inspired, use the time you’d normally devote to watching the debate to exploring your options instead! If your state is no longer accepting election volunteers, there are other ways you can support. Power to the Polls, an organization that aims to get 250,000 Americans to become poll workers, runs a campaign (called Pizza to the Polls) that brings food trucks and takeout to polling places. (You can donate money beforehand, or you can report long Election Day lines and volunteer to make sure food gets delivered safely.)
5. Donate time or money to the organization of your choice.
Abortion access is in peril, law enforcement is killing Black people with impunity, climate change remains a threat, and health care inequities are glaring in the face of the new coronavirus pandemic. In short: No matter who wins in November, there are tough fights ahead. So, if there’s a particular political issue or cause that you’d like to engage with more deeply, look into organizations and resources to do just that.
If you’re interested in donating to the fight for racial justice, you can find organizations that are already doing impactful work. Or suppose you’re interested in reproductive access specifically. In that case, Fey suggests donating to her organization’s birth control access fund, which provides contraceptive methods (and health care visits) for people who might need it. The key here is to focus on the causes that matter to you and lend your support. Since the debate is 90 minutes, that’s a great chunk of time you can spend doing research and getting involved.
6. Donate time or money to a political campaign.
If you have a little money to spare, consider dropping some coins on the political campaign of your choice. This doesn’t just apply to elections that directly impact your life. If you’re invested in the outcome of Senate races across the country—or you have strong feelings about a candidate in another city—you can donate to those campaigns, as well. And if you’re wondering where your money will go: Candidates have staff, equipment, advertising, event expenses, and travel costs to manage, among other (pretty expensive) duties.
7. Call and write your senators.
“Right now the Senate is focusing on this Supreme Court nomination, but we [at Power to Decide] think the Senate should be focused on providing health care to everyone, something that is acutely under threat, and that includes the Affordable Care Act,” Fey explains. If other concerns are top of mind for you—like the Green New Deal, drug reform, or something else—during the debate you can contact state senators and urge them to act in your best interest (you can find their contact information here).
8. Refine and recommit to your voting plan.
The voting registration deadline in many states has passed, so hopefully, you’ve done that already. (If you haven’t, make sure your state allows in-person registration on voting day or if they happen to have lenient mail/online registration deadlines.) That said, there are other considerations. If you’re voting in person, hammer out your correct polling location and figure out what time you’re heading out. You can use the evening of the debate to prep for anything you’ll need to cast your vote safely on (or before) Election Day. And we don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’ve done your part to secure your absentee ballot you still have to fill it out. Sit down on Thursday night, and complete the form (then make a plan to mail it).
9. Encourage family and friends to think through their voting plan.
If you already have your own voting plan solidified but still want to spend the debate doing something political, call up a few friends and family members to encourage them to vote. Just like you might need to think through some voting logistics, some of your friends or family members might need to do the same. If concerns like transportation or child care arise, you can brainstorm solutions together.
10. Take care of yourself (but commit to voting).
“I already know who I’m voting for,” Sabrina B., 36, tells SELF. “So I’m going to do, literally, anything else.” If the other debates had you anxious for the rest of the night, and you don’t need to watch the second one to decide on your candidate, preserve your mental health by reclaiming your time. “I don’t know if [not watching] makes me unpatriotic, but at least it’ll keep me calm,” Sabrina says.