We all know it’s important to get out there to vote. But showing up to vote is only half the job — it’s also important to show up informed about your election decisions. Here is why being an educated voter matters, and five resources to help you conduct research.
When you go to your polling place, you won’t only be voting for the next President of the United States of America. One-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are also up for election this year (as is the case in federal elections every two years).
And don’t forget to research the local and state elections that you’ll see on your ballot beneath the presidential and congressional candidates. These candidates and measures from your city, county, and state will influence your day-to-day life even more than the outcome of the national races. Mayors, state judges, state governors, attorneys general, school boards, sheriffs, and secretaries of state are only a few of the elected offices that may be on your ballot depending where you live. All of these individuals dedicate their career of public service making decisions that influence hundreds or even thousands of people, if not more. Come to the polls prepared with your opinions on any measures or bonds up for approval, as well.
Make your vote matter this year by taking some time to learn about the candidates and issues on your ballot. I’ve compiled five objective sources here that will make doing your research a breeze. And if this is all second-nature to you, please share this article with a friend or relative who might like these resources.
Vote411 is a nonpartisan voter information site run by the League of Women Voters. When you enter your home address, the site generates a personalized ballot with the races you will be voting about on election day. Click on each election on your ballot to find a detailed description of the office and role at stake, including that elected officer’s minimum qualifications, responsibilities, salary, and area of influence. I found this information to be a helpful refresher, especially for the state district candidates with whom I was less familiar.
Vote411 mock ballots also include questions about major issues that candidates can answer in their own words. Some of the topics included gun violence, COVID-19 response, and the deadline for Equal Rights Amendment ratification. In my review, I noticed that most candidates had not filled it out, but where there were responses, I found them informative. The website also includes a comparison tool where you can look at the candidates’ positions on issues side by side.
Similar to Voter411, BallotReady allows the user to create a personalized ballot based on their address. BallotReady includes more candidate information than Voter411, though. The website aggregates information from candidate websites, social media, endorsers, and boards of election to help readers cast an informed vote. Any research goes through a standards review in order to be included. You’ll find candidates’ educational and professional backgrounds, information on political advocacy committee endorsements, an overview of policy priorities, and any relevant policy records. The mock ballots also contain an overview of the office description up for election, and an outline of any measures up for vote.
PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site. PolitiFact is a great place to verify the accuracy of the claims candidates make in campaign websites and media appearances — they even review publicity in local media. The search function allows you to organize your results according to candidates’ truthfulness ratings.
OpenSecrets.org is a nonpartisan and nonprofit resource for reporting federal campaign contributions and lobbying data. Finance records provide another unbiased source of information regarding candidates’ values. Learn about political action committees (PACs), corporations, interest groups, and other entities who donate to your candidates. Those alliances can give you a clue as to what your candidate stands for, especially when campaign messaging remains unclear.
Finally, Ballotpedia is a nonpartisan online encyclopedia for American politics — it serves as a useful resource to help you get the lay of the land with your local, state, and federal government elections. Its election coverage page lists all political offices up for election. The website includes many interesting interactive maps that include information on battleground states where the contest is tight, political party affiliations of district and municipalities, and upcoming years’ elections. You can search the site by year to find which seats in which states will be up for election that year.
While not an exhaustive list, these resources above are a good start to crafting your own opinions and familiarizing yourself more closely with the issues on your local election. Enjoy learning and using your right to vote to support your local and global community.