Around the world, groups of people are denied the right to vote in their country’s regional and federal elections — people under the age of 18 in most countries, people who are undocumented, migrants and refugees, and people convicted of felonies.
But just because you can’t cast a ballot doesn’t mean you can’t still have political impact.
Here are five ways you can make your voice heard and participate in democracy, wherever you are in the world.
1. Raise awareness by taking action.
You might not be able to take political action by voting, but you can do so by sharing petitions, joining campaigns, and organizing events for the causes you care about most.
If you feel strongly about a specific issue up for debate ahead of an election, help spread the word by sharing content on social media or by organizing a protest. When enough people use their collective voice to call for change, big things can happen.
Global Citizen’s campaigns allow people to do just that — use their voice to enact change. Even if you don’t have the right to vote, you still have the right to tweet at world leaders and call for action on issues like access to health care, education, racial justice, and more.
Global Citizens, regardless of their age or citizenship status, are able to take action and create long-lasting change. For example, when 36,000 Global Citizens signed a petition calling on Canada to commit new funding for women and children’s health and reproductive rights in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by announcing a CA$1.4 billion commitment.
2. Preregister to vote.
If you’re in the US and under 18, you can still preregister to vote in many states so that when the time comes for you to cast your first ballot, you’re ready to go.
You can also help other people get registered and actually vote. Encourage the people you know who are eligible to vote to check their status by sharing tools like the Just Vote registration status checker or help people register online if they’re not as internet-savvy as you might be.
3. Join or volunteer with a political party.
In some countries, refugees and migrants are unable to participate in the voting process because they’re not considered citizens of the country — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t take part in the political process.
In Germany, for instance, even as a non-German citizen, you are allowed to join a political party, according to Info Migrants.
Abdulrahman Abbasi, a Syrian refugee who is not officially a German citizen, is a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) party in Germany. Despite not being a citizen, Abbasi was still able to vote on Germany’s agreement on a coalition government between the major political parties the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the SPD in 2018 — meaning he had a very real say in the future of the country.
"I enjoy the rights and honor the duties of living in this country and actively participate in its social and political life," Abbasi told Deutsche Welle. "Deciding on the next government means a lot to me because it will pass laws that will affect the society in which I live."
Non-citizens in the United Kingdom cannot vote either, but like in Germany, they can join political parties. In Sweden, non-citizens who have lived there for three consecutive years can vote in municipal and county elections and are also able to join political parties, according to insights from the Social Innovation Exchange.
Find out the rules of the country in which you reside — and if you can’t join a party in the end, you can likely volunteer to help. As a volunteer, you can help parties generate votes by joining their campaigning efforts or by canvassing — because in all elections, every last vote counts.
4. Get involved with organizations that are making a difference.
Whether you’re underage, formerly incarcerated and unable to vote, or a non-citizen looking for a way to meaningfully participate in democracy, there are so many organizations you can get involved with to have an impact in an upcoming election.
If you’re passionate about restoring voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in the US, you can join in the work of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP, and others.
The ACLU’s Voting Rights Project specifically litigates cases that protect voting rights across the US, making sure that anyone who is eligible to vote can register and cast their ballot. The team also works on expanding the list of people who are considered eligible voters, according to Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
And while Ebenstein advises people to consult the rules in their individual states, there’s one clear suggestion she has for those looking to get involved outside of voting.
"One thing that people can do is they can promote voter registration," Ebenstein said. "Even if you yourself are not registered, talking to other people about registration, about the importance of voting, making sure that they’re registered, making sure that they have a plan for how they’re going to cast their ballot — that’s been very effective in making sure people turn out."
"If your individual voice can’t be heard, at least your community as a whole can be," Ebenstein added.
If you want to help encourage young people to vote, look to organizations like HeadCount in the US or the League of Young Voters in the UK. In Nigeria, Enough is Enough Nigeria works to encourage political transparency and to promote the importance of voting through its educational content and by providing opportunities to take action.
These organizations exist around the world and are always looking for help.
5. Know your rights.
If you’ve previously been convicted of a felony in the US, you might think you’re not allowed to vote, but Ebenstein notes that regulations vary so much by state that it’s possible you are eligible and you don’t know — so find out your rights in your state.
"In many states, there’s something they can affirmatively do to get their rights restored," Ebenstein said.
You might be surprised to learn that you can vote or that you can apply for clemency and ultimately end up with your voting rights restored.
Knowing your rights doesn’t just apply to people who have been incarcerated in the US. If you think you’re unable to vote, but you’re not fully sure — find out. Most countries have resources online with the broad basics on who can and cannot vote, but if you’re in a country like the US where voting rights vary from state to state, be sure to look for regionally-specific information.
Global Citizen and HeadCount have teamed up to launch Just Vote, a campaign mobilizing young Americans to register to vote ahead of the 2020 election and beyond. As part of the campaign, your favorite artists and entertainers are offering exclusive experiences, performances, and memorabilia — and they can only be unlocked once eligible voters check their voter registration status. Learn more about Just Vote and how you can take action here.