How to Be an Informed Voter

Art by Libby Vander Ploeg

Co-written by Caylin Harris and Jessica Kirby

Voting is one of our greatest privileges as citizens, and yet typically, only about half of eligible voters exercise that right in elections (less during mid-term elections). If there is anything that the last two years has proved, it is that elections matter (and they have consequences). And while it’s easy to make excuses to not vote—I’m too busy with work, I don’t like any of the candidates, or I don’t know enough —there is too much at stake to not make your voice heard. Plus, for the majority of you reading this post, voting was a right we had to fight for.

There are no stupid questions. Just because you don’t know everything about politics doesn’t mean you can’t learn. You also don’t have to know everything! We understand it can be overwhelming but the answers are out there if you look. Here’s some general information that you need to know going into the midterm elections.

Why is this election so important? Isn’t the presidential election not for another two years?

Correct. But in between the presidential election are the midterm elections that are held for state and federal government positions. While the president is in place for another two years, all of the seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs (they serve two-year terms) and there are thirty-five available seats in the Senate (they serve six-year terms). Why does this matter? Because in order to get legislation passed, a bill needs to get a majority vote in both the House and the Senate. Whichever party controls (has a larger deciding vote) both the House and the Senate can be the deciding factor of a bill becoming law. Even if the president vetoes a bill if there’s a 2/3-majority vote they can override his decision. These positions are immensely powerful so it’s important to make sure that your state’s representatives reflect your values and priorities.

When do I vote?

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th. To make the process easier on yourself, you’ll want to do a few things right now:

  1. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Here are the deadlines for each state on when you need to register to vote and how to do it online if that’s possible. Some states require that you register in person or by mail.
And if you’re already or newly registered…
  1. Check the hours at your polling locationIf you look now you can plan ahead on the best/easiest time for you to go.

Not sure if you’re already registered? Check your registration status at RocktheVote.org 

What if I know nothing about who is running in my state?

It’s all about getting educated and that can take some time. Paying attention to your local news will definitely help, but here are some other resources that can get you started. The first step is to find out who is running in your state. From there you can see who is a Democrat or Republican, not sure which party you most align with? Take this handy quiz from the Pew Research Center.

Vote Smart lets you look at your Congressional candidates and then allows you to go through and plug-in the issues that are important to you to show you your best match. When it narrows down to the best candidate for you, you can click on their name and picture to pull up a little bio about them. Another great resource is Vote411.org, if you plug in your address it will allow you to compare candidates positions side by side and then lets you print a ballot to bring with you to the polls.

A great place to dig a little deeper into candidates and issues that affect your state specifically is Ballotpedia. It will show you info about the candidates, but most importantly it will show you any state ballot measures that are up for a vote in your state. On the ballot they don’t always go into detail and simply require you to vote yes or no, this site breaks down what that yes or no vote is for. It can be a vote on anything from education funding to environmental research funding.

What if I get to the polls and I’m told I’m not allowed to vote?

Voter intimidation is real and can happen. The best way to combat it is to know your rights. If you’re at the correct polling location and you’re still being hassled or questioned, the ACLU’s website has a really helpful guide on what to do if you feel like your rights are being violated. There may also be administrative errors (this happened to Craig in the primaries). You can still cast a provisional ballot at your polling place.

Your vote matters. Period. End of story. If you think it doesn’t, look at what happened in Alabama when Doug Jones won against Roy Moore by a little more than one percent of the vote. You already know more than you think you do. You know what is important to you. You know your values. You know the kind of world you’d like to live in or how you want your kids to grow up. The things you feel strongly about should inform your vote. While you might not agree one hundred percent with a candidate about every issue, you should vote with the person who most closely aligns with your values. Essentially this is a job interview. Look at their career, their resume, and where they stand on the issues. And above all make an educated decision and get out there and vote. Not just every four years. The future of the country is in our hands and it’s time to decide who and what we believe in.

To make it easier on yourself, make a cheat sheet for election day. Write down all the candidate names, any important state/local ballot measures and how you plan to vote, and bring this with you into the voting booth. It can be a little overwhelming on election day but this is the best way to ensure you cast your vote the way you want to.

Resources

Vote Smart –  Provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials.

Emily’s List  – Helping Progressive women get elected.

Jessica Yellin – Watch her Instagram stories for concise breakdowns of current events, how it impacts us and what we can do to take action.

Vote Save America

5 Comments

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  1. Cory says:

    Thank you for this post! I have already checked out VoteSmart and Vote411 and they were both incredibly helpful.

  2. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for this — incredibly useful information. I hope we see a record turnout this November. I appreciate you using your platform to share this info!

  3. Jessica says:

    I cannot express how excited I was to see this post. SO INFORMATIVE. I vote during every election, but this time I just feel that much more prepared. Also I am obsessed with Jessica Yellin and her coverage after you posted about her on Instagram. Such an amazing resource!

  4. Loved this post and it’s importance! Thank you for introducing me to the Pew Research Center quiz. I’ve always felt I was somewhere in the middle of left and right and after taking the quiz that’s exactly where it landed me. So hello, I’m Logan and I’m a New Era Enterpriser, nice to meet you 🙂
    Keep doing great things with your voice, Jess!

    xoxo Logan
    http://www.habitsandhues.com

  5. Erica says:

    This is so informative! I recently started following Jessica Yellin on Instagram. She’s awesome at explaining current issues. I look forward to her posts and stories each day. I should receive my ballot in the mail this week and will definitely bookmark your post to help me get informed before I vote. Thank you Jess!