I remember voting in my very first presidential election. The year was 1992. Bill Clinton (Democrat) ran against incumbent candidate, George H. W. Bush (Republican). Being a first-time voter, I was very excited about the opportunity to become involved in the democratic process.
I had just graduated from college and was still living at home with my mother while awaiting job prospects. Bright and early on election day, my mom drove me to the polls. As we were walking to the entrance of the polling location, I vividly remember her saying “Make sure you vote Democrat!”
I proudly voted Democrat in that and every election since. However, for many years I never really gave a second thought as to why I voted the way I did. I voted exclusively for candidates who identified as Democrat, simply because my mother told me to. I never researched or vetted political candidates. Sadly, I was an uninformed voter.
That all changed in 2008. Running for president that year was a little-known Senator from Illinois with a very unique name. Senator Barack Hussein Obama piqued my interest. I made it my mission to research his background and experience, as well as his voting record in the Illinois State Senate and US Senate. I wanted to know what he stood for, what he supported, and who supported him. I desired to become an informed and savvy voter.
Researching a political candidate is just as important as voting for one. That goes for all candidates – those at the national and local level. When it comes to researching national presidential candidates, much of what you need to know is openly shared via 24 hour news coverage, leading up to the election. However, when it comes to local elections, you may have to conduct a bit more intentional research.
Some political scientists suggest that local elections are just as important as national elections. Those elected at the local level are the ones who have the greatest impact on our everyday lives.
Tired of driving over pot holes? Well, research and vote for a mayoral candidate who’s committed to fixing your city’s infrastructure. Tired of your property taxes increasing? Research and vote for city council members who promise not to raise taxes.
Other important candidates who must be investigated are those running for local judge and prosecutor positions. These elected officials are some of the most powerful people in the criminal justice system. With the stroke of a pen or the bang of a gavel, they are the only people who have the power to put someone into modern-day bondage!
So in this upcoming election, let’s not vote for someone simply because of party affiliation, race, gender, or a catchy campaign slogan. Nor should we make the mistake of leaving votes blank or uncast simply because we don’t know who a candidate is or what they stand for. Became an informed voter. Reasearch each candidate before election day.
I’d like to recommend a 3-step process to researching candidates and becoming an informed voter.
Step #1 – Determine what you are looking for in a candidate
I always look for a candidate with whom I agree on various issues. Whether nationally or locally, the biggest issues for me are the ones that directly impact poor and minority communities. That ranges from healthcare to job creation. From public transit to the homeless crisis. For you, however, it could be an entirely different set of issues. So make sure to seek candidates with whom you align on those important issues.
Another factor in determining what you might be looking for in a candidate includes their experience. Are you looking for a long-time career politician? Or would you be open to an up and coming political newcomer? For me it depends entirely on that particular candidate. I happen to be open to both.
Step #2 – Research candidate information
A quick online search will result in basic information about a candidate, including their age, education, current or past employment, and political position(s) held. Also make sure to visit the candidate’s personal campaign website. Candidate websites usually contain detailed information about that person’s beliefs and causes. Researching that information will give you a more comprehensive understanding of the candidate.
Since recently moving back to Georgia, I’ve seen countless campaign ads on local television. However, I wanted to learn more about the candidates who would be listed on my ballot come Election Day. I did a quick Goggle search by typing Who are my local candidates 2020. I found a non-partisan website called thegeorgiavoterguide.com.
After entering my home address, that website gave me a treasure trove of candidate information. It included every position from presdential candidates to congressional and public service commission candidates. More importantly, it had side by side comparsions of each candidate regarding how they stand on issues, and who’s endorsed them. I’m pretty certain a similar online search would yield information about the candidates appearing on the ballot in your state.
Step #3 – Research who financially supports the candidate
A great way to determine a candidate’s political stance and the issues they support, is to research who backs them financially. Often, a candidate is beholden to the very donors who give money to their campaign. All Presidential, Senate, and House candidates must report campaign donations to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC has a searchable database of campaign donors. Or you might explore the website OpenSecrets.org for campaign finance information.
For financial contributions at the state and local level, the websites for your state’s campaign finance or elections commission might be a good place to start. Or you may be able to find some donor information on the website FollowTheMoney.org.
This election season, let’s all become informed and savvy voters.When it comes to voting, let’s give it the thought and consideration you’d give to any other important act.Research a candidate the same way you’d research a potential employer when seeking a new career opportunity.Research candidates the same way you’d research colleges before sending your child off to school.Thorough research will help you avoid “Voters Remorse” later down the line.
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Jeff Welch is an accomplished corporate trainer, leadership coach, writer, and public speaker with over 20 years of experience in the Learning and Development space. He has delivered training workshops, seminars, and keynote speeches for clients in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Caribbean. He specializes in facilitating instructor-led and virtual training courses which focus on professional development skills and train-the-trainer programming. Jeff’s training programs and speeches are well-researched and delivered in a down-to-earth, yet high energy style. Jeff utilizes storytelling techniques and incorporates various “pearls of wisdom” from his grandmother. A proud alumnus of Western Kentucky University, Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Broadcast Journalism and Speech Communications. He also possesses numerous training certifications in the disciplines of facilitation, instructional design, and human performance consulting. Jeff is President of his own consulting group, JW Training Events, LLC. A life-long Southerner, Jeff was raised in Owensboro, Kentucky and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. He loves to cook, travel, and read historical markers while on road trips.
Jeff is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.