Midterm elections are a week away and I was hoping to write up some online resources that hold the unbiased information you need to be an informed voter at the polls. Political attack ads are flying back and forth on television but it’s hard to know how much truth is in some of those claims. Even more rudimentary information like ‘what district am I in’, ‘what positions are up for election’, ‘who’s running for those positions’, and ‘are there any propositions or referendums on the ballot?’ all seem like basic questions you should be able to find the answer to well in advance to the election. Unfortunately, it seems we might be ahead of our thinking that this information could be found online in one consistent location.
Some states have a law that require the county clerks of each county to publish a sample ballot (PDF) at least 3 days in advance in the local newspaper with the largest circulation. Unfortunately, there is no comparable law that I know of for the online world. Just taking a quick survey across four counties that I have ties to, three of the four have most of the information we could want on the county clerk’s site. The fourth county that isn’t providing needed information hasn’t actually been updated since the last presidential election. If I had a say, however, there would also be a law stating that the basic information of the upcoming election would have to be published to the county clerk’s website at least a week before election day. Fortunately, there are some other resources we can visit to educate ourselves for the upcoming election.
Your County Clerk
Your county clerk’s website should be your first visit. It’s the most relevant and tailored to your needs. While some of the less connected counties or tech-savvy county clerks may not have updated sites, it’s your best bet for the most straight-forward access to the information you need. You might also have a very tech-enabled clerk with a fancy website and all the information you need in a well-presented manner.
Finding your county clerk’s website isn’t consistent between states or even counties so I can’t do much more for you than suggest you do a search for “[your county name] county clerk”. The URL to your county clerk’s site may follow the same pattern as mine which is:
From your voter registration card, you should be able to gather much of the needed information like your precinct, applicable districts, and polling place. Hopefully with that information and your County Clerk’s website, you’ll be able to figure out who and what will be on your ballot to vote for. From there you can research your candidates as you please. Most candidates have dedicated websites and *shudder* Facebook pages. Most quality newspapers do a pretty good write-up of candidates and summarize their stances on the key issues. Check your local newspaper’s website but beware that they will likely be a biased source. Check to see if they endorse any candidates to make their bias clearer. They may also have the sample ballot published online.
Be aware that these sites may have their own agenda and bias in providing this information.
PolitiFact.com is a project of the St. Petersburg Times to keep track of political sound bytes and judge them for their truthfulness. Picking up particularly in election years, PolitiFact judges quotes from campaign ads and rules them from ‘Pants on Fire’ to ‘True’ and places in between. Politifact will be most useful for national elections and those in the select states that it covers, currently: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. If you’re from one of those states, check out PolitiFact.com to figuratively give your candidates a lie-detector test and keep up on the status of President Obama’s campaign promises.
Vote411.org was launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund and provides election related information. Specifically, it tries to provide information regarding: absentee ballots, ballot measure info, early voting options, election dates, factual data on candidates, topics to watch, ID requirements for voting, polling place locations, deadlines, voter qualifications, voter registration forms, and voting machines.
Project Vote Smart can seem kind of hokey with their “Candidate Courage Test” and other surveys but it can actually be a site that is useful year-round, not just near election time. The project is run by those interested in democracy more than one candidate or issue. It provides a good amount of information on candidates and incumbents including biographical info, voting records, stances on issues, interest group ratings, finances, and statements. It’s definitely worth checking out to find a lot of information out about politicians all in one place.
VoteEasy is one of Vote Smart’s surveys that I originally thought more silly than helpful but it actually ended up being an interesting way to explore the different candidates and how we aligned on 12 hot-button issues. It also provides access to finding out more details about each candidate as you vote for each issue.
If you don’t do your own research, you’re only learning about the candidates with the big budget that can support advertising and coming to you, which is not necessarily the right person for the job. Do yourself and your state a favor and become educated about the candidates. Then get out there and vote next Tuesday or with absentee/early voting.