Nurture - November 2, 2018

MAED’s Guide to Midterm Election Resources

Election day is approaching fast—it’s on Tuesday, November 6, so mark your calendar if you haven’t already. Making time to get to the polls is great, but it’s only part of the equation. Before you make it to the voting booth, you need to know what you’ll be voting on and who the candidates on the ballot are—and this means doing your homework. Researching candidates and propositions sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of resources out there to help educate voters and they’re only a few clicks away. Here are some of the best places to find information about candidates before (and after) you vote:

The candidates’ websites:

Candidates for almost every office, even local elections, have websites that outline their experience, their campaign promises, and their positions on key issues. This information comes directly from the candidate so you know that they endorse the messages, but it’s also important to keep in mind that any candidates’ website is a part of their personal brand and marketing machine, so it’s always good to fact check their actual record on issues (more on that below) before you vote.

Local newspapers:

Local newspapers do some of the best, most informative reporting in the country and most local papers publish guides to the candidates and their key positions. National publications, like The New York Times, also publish endorsements, which can be helpful in guiding your decision-making for the national elections. Your local paper, however, will also endorse candidates for smaller state and local elections. A paper’s endorsement is a recommendation, and reputable publications will explain their reasons for endorsing one candidate over the others.

This is an invaluable resource if you don’t have the time to do deep digging into the candidates yourself. Of course, some publications do skew left or right, politically, so it’s good to be aware of potential biases and to read the endorsements from multiple papers if you feel like one source isn’t giving you the full picture.

Other voter information websites:

In addition to the candidates’ websites and endorsement guides from newspapers, there are also plenty of websites dedicated specifically to breaking down candidate information for voters, such as:

There are also specific things to keep in mind while researching candidates that depend on if they’re an incumbent (that is, someone who is running for re-election for an office they already hold) or a challenger (someone who does not already hold the office).

Remember, these people work for you. Their job is to represent your community’s interests… if you don’t make your voice heard, nothing will change.

If the candidate is the incumbent:  

Here’s the good news: Incumbents are easy to research. You can visit the candidate’s local office and talk to them or their staff in-person if you want to, but you can also look into their on-the-job record.

For senators, representatives, councilmembers, and the like, you can look into their voting record—how does how they actually vote compare to the promises they’ve made during their campaign? Are they voting in your best interest? Can they justify why they believe the way they’ve voted best serves the community? These are fair (and important) questions.

Looking at the candidate’s record also applies to other public officials, like judges and sheriffs. You can look at how incumbent judges have ruled on cases during their previous term or how laws have been enforced under a sheriff’s leadership, for example.

If the candidate is a challenger:

Researching challengers can be a little more difficult, but it isn’t impossible. In some cases, a challenger has held another office in the past (just like how many presidential candidates were senators or governors before running). In that case, you have a record to check out, after all.

If the candidate has never held a public office before, there’s still a good chance that they have relevant experience that will help you understand how they’ll approach the job at hand. A candidate for a judgeship, for example, may have served as DA or Attorney General. Failing that, the hypothetical judge candidate has almost certainly practiced law and even a look into their courtroom experience and the kinds of cases they’ve taken can help paint a picture of how fit they are for the job at hand.

Active political engagement shouldn’t stop after election day, either. Once candidates are in office, they work for the citizens in their districts, which means you have every right to make sure they know where you stand on important issues. Here’s some basic information that will help you keep tabs on your reps—and to stay connected with them after the election.

  • The federal government maintains a database that will help you find your representatives (and independent databases exist too). If you’re not sure who represents you, check. Think of your representatives as employees whose contracts come up for renewal every two to six years, but who need regular performance reviews in between those renewals.
  • Know how your representatives are voting by checking their track records here. Remember, these people work for you. Their job is to represent your community’s interests, in some cases on the national level—but, like any employee, they need their boss to check in from time-to-time to keep them on track. If you notice that your representative isn’t voting in a way you agree with, don’t be afraid to tell them so. If you don’t make your voice heard, nothing will change.
  • Once you find your representative, find their website, which will have information about where to find their local office and how to contact them. You will be able to call them, speak to their staff, and even schedule an appointment to come speak with them personally in many cases.
  • While you’re on your representatives’ websites or on the phone with their local offices, ask about upcoming town hall meetings and mark them on your calendar. Town hall meetings are events during which members of the public are invited to come get facetime with their representatives and discuss issues that matter to them. This is a great chance to talk to your rep and connect with other engaged members of the community. Remember, there’s strength in numbers, so if an issue is really important to you, find other local voters who feel the same way and present a united front to your reps.

Staying informed and engaged is key to exercising your basic civic rights, whether it’s during the election season or in the middle of a representative’s term.

 

Kayleigh Roberts is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, and Allure, among others.

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