Resources and Tips for Informed Voting
Nationwide voter turnout in the 2016 general election was about 56 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that provides information on various issues in the U.S. The percentage was even lower during the 2018 midterm elections, even though that year’s turnout was considered to be unusually high for a midterm.
According to another analysis by the Pew Research Center, 4 percent of registered voters in 2016 cited “registration problems” as their reason for not voting, while 14 percent of voters were “too busy” or had a “conflicting schedule.”
Navigating the ins and outs of elections can be especially intimidating for first-time voters who aren’t yet registered.
“My parents talked to me a lot about politics when I was younger, and I definitely do think that encouraged me to participate by voting. I miss some local elections, but I vote for every midterm, primary and general election,” said Christina Uzzo, a 22-year-old Bay Area native and graduate of the University of Chicago.
Gabriel Wood, a student at UC Berkeley, also noted that his family had a significant impact on his participation in elections. He credits his family for giving him “a strong sense of civic responsibility” to help create “a more equitable, fair society for all.”
While some, like Uzzo and Wood, may have had parental guidance and encouragement in the process of voting, many first-time voters do not have this luxury.
Ballots are surprisingly long, which may come as a surprise to first-time voters. Checking a sample ballot ahead of time and becoming familiar with the contents will be helpful when it comes to election day. Doing research and deciding how to vote before going to the polling station is also good preparation, as referendums and candidates’ stances can be difficult to understand without background information. There are many organizations that do this research for voters and package it for accessibility. Some of these organizations also make recommendations on how to vote.
“I do a combination of my own research, plus I look at Ballot Ready and a few other progressive guides. Social media and some local guides also help me keep up to date about what is going on and what people think about different issues,” said Uzzo.
Ballot Ready, a nonpartisan site, thoroughly researches candidates and referendums on ballots specific to voters’ locations. The site lays out the background of candidates and measures, allowing voters to weigh benefits and costs in a simplified fashion. Voters can fill out a sample ballot ahead of time and either print a copy of it or bring it with them on their phone for election day. Ballot Ready also allows the option of joining an email list that sends out notifications for upcoming elections. While the site gives helpful background information, it doesn’t endorse candidates or give recommendations on how to vote on referendums.
“I use Ballotpedia to condense some policy questions into more readable and impactful formats and to research candidates. I also discuss voting with my friends and family,” said Wood.
Ballotpedia is a nonprofit that provides an online “encyclopedia of American politics and elections,” according to its website. The site has over 27,600 articles written by their staff of professional election analysts, writers and researchers, with content covering topics such as ballot measures, fact checking, public policy and more.
Another nonpartisan resource is Vote Smart, an organization run by volunteers who, according to their website, don’t accept financial assistance from groups supporting or opposing candidates or issues. The site provides the Vote Easy quiz to help match candidates to individuals’ interests.
The League of Women Voters of California, also a nonpartisan organization, makes ballot recommendations based on study and consensus among its members, according to its website. In addition, The League provides explanations and evaluations of the pros and cons of propositions.
Some local news papers, such as the SF Chronicle, also make endorsements and recommendations. The SF Chronicle is a left-leaning newspaper, according to All Sides, an organization that collects bias ratings from readers across the political spectrum. Endorsements by the SF Chronicle are made by the editorial board or the publisher, editors and writers of the opinion staff, according to an explanation by John Diaz, a staff writer for the newspaper.
Choosing how to vote based on recommendations from a selection of these resources is a good start, and for some it may be all that’s manageable. For those who have the curiosity and time to delve deeper and do some of their own research, there are many other organizations and resources that provide more detailed information.
The Center for Responsive Politics is a nonprofit research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and investigates its effects on elections, according to their website OpenSecrets, which provides information on individual candidates’ fundraising, including the amount of money they have received and where that money comes from.
FactCheck.org, a site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, verifies the validity of statements made by politicians and others in the government. Although the site doesn’t provide information on local elections, it’s a useful resource during Presidential elections and in general to sort out false statements from true ones.
Fifteen percent of registered voters chose not to vote because they felt that their vote wouldn’t make a difference, while 25 percent cited a “dislike of candidates or issues,” according to another report by the Pew Research Center.
“While I was campaigning for Bernie Sanders, I talked to a lot of people who feel that their vote won’t change any of the corruption that goes on in politics, so they just end up not voting,” said Uzzo.
Furthermore, people are less likely to vote if they are immigrants or of a minority group. Only 49 percent of African Americans, 35 percent of Asians and 33 percent of Latinos voted, compared to 54 percent of whites in 2014, according to American National Election Studies. This loss of minority voters tends to hurt Democrats.
“It’s not really my business,” said a math professor at CSU East Bay and Chabot College who immigrated to the Bay Area from Vietnam when he was 14. He asked not to be named to protect his privacy. “My parents used to vote when they lived in Vietnam. But over there, voting doesn’t matter because politics is so corrupt. Here, I feel like the outcomes could be cheated easily too. So there’s not much I can do. My job is to just be a good citizen.”
However, upset victories, such as that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York during the May primary, show that the minority vote does matter. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud exists, but is rare. Voter turnout is, in comparison, a much bigger issue that could significantly alter election outcomes.
The process of voting can be confusing and time-consuming initially, and at times it is easy to lose confidence in the democratic process and its ability to represent fairly. But if there’s even a small chance voting could amplify your voice, which might otherwise go unheard, or help to positively change circumstances for other people, then it’s a worthwhile investment to make. Just be sure to do your homework before you get to the polls.