Voting is a cornerstone of a civically engaged life, offering every person a voice in the collective direction of their community and nation. In an era where information – and misinformation – is at our fingertips, it’s both a privilege and a responsibility to be informed, especially when it comes to our democratic processes.
Casting an informed vote isn’t just about choosing a preferred candidate; it’s about understanding how that choice will affect our daily lives for the years to come. Voter education is the avenue that leads to such an informed decision. It is the responsibility of both the individual and the larger societal systems to ensure voters understand the candidates and ballot. Here are some tips on how to become more informed and some resources to help you do so.
The Power of Local Elections
While presidential elections often command a lot of attention, it’s local elections that have the most immediate and tangible impact on our daily lives. In most major cities, fewer than 15% of voters turn out to vote in their mayoral election. And because there are fewer voters in local elections, your vote carries tremendous power.
Elected officials at the local level, from school board members to mayors and city council members, shape policies on everything from public transportation to local taxes to educational reforms and more.
Given the smaller voter pool in local elections, each ballot cast carries more significant weight, making it an invaluable opportunity for individuals to influence their immediate surroundings and advocate for the issues that matter most to them.
Where to Find Resources
To be an informed voter, a little homework is in order. Start by finding out if your state offers an app for voting. Apps can offer access to the upcoming ballot, tell you where to vote, help you update your registration, vote by absentee ballot and more.
To learn more about who and what is on the ballot, check local newspapers and community websites, which frequently offer insightful profiles of candidates and provide breakdowns of local issues. Nonpartisan websites such as Vote411 offer a comprehensive look at your ballot, from the top offices to the local issues, and provide insights on measures and candidate stances. This resource was launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund and tailors election information to your specific location, ensuring you have all the details you need to cast your vote confidently. Similarly, Ballotpedia serves as an objective online encyclopedia of neutral, detailed information about elections at all levels.
Interpreting the Ballot
Ballots can sometimes present a challenge to voters, especially when measures are described in dense legal language. To truly grasp the meaning and implications of these measures, voters should turn to nonpartisan resources like the websites listed above or attend local community forums that offer clear and concise explanations.
When researching candidates, it’s beneficial to peruse candidates’ official websites and social media pages. These platforms often provide a candid view of the candidate’s priorities and standpoints on various issues. But what if a candidate doesn’t necessarily have a robust website that answers your questions?
Engage with Local Officials
The beauty of local governance lies in its accessibility. Local officials, unlike their national counterparts, tend to be more reachable and responsive to their constituents. If there’s ever uncertainty about a candidate’s stance on an issue, or if there’s a desire to voice a concern, you shouldn’t hesitate to send an email or make a phone call.
This kind of direct engagement not only provides valuable insights but also informs officials about the issues that matter to their community. Additionally, attending town hall meetings or public forums hosted in local community centers, schools or libraries offers a direct channel to engage with and learn from candidates.
Make Sure You’re Registered to Vote
It may sound like an unnecessary step if you’ve registered to vote in the past, but it’s not uncommon for voter registrations to be purged. At least 17 million voters were purged nationwide between 2016 and 2018.
Purging voter rolls is a necessary and important process. Registered voters can be purged for a number of reasons, including death, moving and committing a felony among others. The reason can vary by state, but once your record is purged, you become ineligible to cast your ballot. Before the next election, check to see if your registration is active.
Now It’s Time to Vote
A thriving democracy relies on the active and informed participation of its citizens. By dedicating time to understanding the local landscape—both the candidates and the issues—you become an integral part of shaping your community’s future direction.
In the realm of local elections, your vote isn’t just a voice; it’s a call to action. As election day approaches, be prepared to wield that power, knowing fully the impact and influence of your choice.