Having just voted in California’s primary election June 3, I’ve got voting on my mind. It can be easy to skip voting if you feel overwhelmed by the process. Being organized can help alleviate that anxiety and get you to the polls prepared and on time.
Get registered, if you’re not already
USA.gov provides information on how to register, how to change your registration information, as well as registration deadlines for each state. The United States Election Assistance Commission will also direct you to election-related information specific to your state.
Be sure to re-register if you’ve changed your name, your address, or if you want to change your party affiliation.
Decide when you’re going to vote
Do you quality for (and need) an absentee ballot? If so, be sure to apply for one within the given time limits.
Does your state provide the option of vote-by-mail ballots? If so, you may want to apply for that option and avoid lines at the polls. Simply request and then mail in your completed ballot by the required dates. In many places, you can still turn in your vote-by-mail ballot at your polling station on election day if you change your mind, which is what I almost always do.
If you’re not going to vote by mail, be sure to know your polling location. And, know when you can vote; some states have early in-person voting, while others are restricted to a single election day. Be sure you know the hours your polling place is open, too.
Decide how to vote
People go about deciding how to vote in a number of ways. Sometimes we don’t need to do any specific research; by election day, we’ve been inundated with information about most high-profile candidates.
But, what about the candidates and issues that aren’t so high-profile? I just had to vote on superior court justices, my county coroner, and two competing propositions regarding a bridge in my city that needs to be repaired or replaced. Information about local and state-wide issues is often more work to obtain — you have to be proactive.
I get information from a number of sources:
- The Smart Voter website, provided by the League of Women Voters. This gives me the candidates’ official statements, and links to their websites, which are often helpful.
- The information mailed out by the secretary of state. This gives me the text of all propositions, the impartial analysis from the legislative analyst’s office, and the official arguments for and against those propositions. (Some of this, but not all of it, is also available at Smart Voter.)
- Newspaper editorials, found online. Here I’m looking for sites that provide the reason why they were endorsing a candidate or a position, so I can decide whether or not their logic makes sense to me. I read at least two endorsements in this past election that helped convince me to vote in the opposite direction from what was being recommended. I like to read a number of editorials, not just one. I have a list of newspapers whose websites I usually check.
- Knowledgeable people. How much do I know about my local water district and the members of its governing board? I know a bit, but I know someone whose opinions I respect who knows a lot. So I asked him for his recommendation on that election, last fall.
- Endorsements: Again, when i research endorsements, I’m looking for those who might have specific expertise about issues and candidates that I don’t have. When looking at the candidates for superior court judges, I looked at the endorsements from the existing superior court judges, especially those I know and respect.
Finally, weighing all of the information I’ve gathered, I make my decision and mark my ballot.