Recently, while doing outreach at a school, I was asked to speak to the newly minted 18 and 19 year-old students about planning their future. This inevitably led to the current volatile national election and what role it may play in future opportunities resulting in me presenting a civics lesson on how to best prepare for their first opportunity to take advantage of their right to vote. After I explained how I was taught to vote, the teacher admitted she had never been taught “how” to vote and wondered if I would share the lesson with administrators so that they might spread the same knowledge. It came as a surprise to me that some educators didn’t know how to utilize the right to vote. However after speaking with several other friends and coworkers, I now realize how few people have been taught or remember how to process a ballot. This could be why so many people get frustrated, angry, throw all their support and money into national candidates early, or simply choose not to vote.
Since, the election is less than five weeks away and mail-in ballots will be heading out shortly, I decided to share this civics lesson I learned a long time ago, in case there were more people looking for guidance, or simply needed a refresher.
Do you know “HOW” to vote?
Step 1: Know NOW what is on the ballot. Did you know you can see what will be on your ballot, sometimes as early as six months prior to the election? Well, now you do. In some states the the “Secretary of State,” or State Elections committee will have an easy place to find your ballot (local library or website). If not, it can also be found on the non-partisan website www.Ballotpedia.org. Enter your voter registered address and the site will show the local ballot including National, State, County, District and local candidates and measures. You can even print it out or sign up for updates, although, it should not be necessary to sign up for updates after the first week of October. All states should have finalized their ballots by then. What you see is what you get. You may be surprised at what you see. For instance, in Colorado there are over 22 teams running for the office of President of the United States! Who says there aren’t options?
Step 2: Skip to the end. First thing to know about voting, the top of the ballot is ALWAYS loaded. The “highest” offices and measures are always put at the beginning of the ballot. This is what the talking heads and “powers that be” deem to be the most important, because it is important to them. However, in any election, and especially the General, most if not all of these people, don’t or won’t affect you right away. Voting intelligently at the local level, it’s possible to minimize and/or negate actions perpetrated by the “Top of the ballot.” So for now, ignore them and immediately, go to the very bottom or last page of your ballot. The issues found there, are the ones that can and will affect you as early as the day after the election. These are the people and measures you want to spend some time understanding and making an informed vote on.
Step 3. Go Native. Start with the measures on the ballot. Spend time researching the local measures and making choices based on your feelings and expectations for the present and the future where you live, work and play. Think of how a measure may or may not personally affect you and or your family or friends. Research prevailing opinions and at the very least no what a Yes, No and Empty vote mean.
Now that you’ve made your decision on the measures, it’s time to begin the process of determining who, among the local candidates, support your views on those same local measures. This is important because, if you hope to see your feelings and expectations put into effect, you need to choose the candidates who support your views. Researching local candidates can sometimes be harder, only because many candidates run on just their name. Think Judges, School District Directors, County Clerks, etc. These are people who have also grown accustomed to the “Trickle Down” voting scenario and don’t expect anyone will actually look them up, choosing instead to vote for superficial reasons like, party, gender, age, or occupation. So how can you find out about them? Well, personally, I hate calling any politician and asking for information. So, if nothing is publicly available from the Secretary of State, or through a generic or Google News search, try social media sites. My personal advice here, ‘Be wary of anyone running for political office nowadays that does NOT have a public social media presence, i.e. LinkedIn.” The world is changing and those who desire to lead it need to stay ahead of the game, not behind.
Step 4. Climb Up the ballot Now that you’ve spent the majority of your time on the local
measures and candidates, it’s time to look at the State level candidates. Remember, the goal is to ensure your interests and expectations are addressed. The most efficient and regularly effective way is to look at the candidates the local candidates you chose support. Find if there is a connection between the local and state candidates. If both candidates are from the same political party, they should have that connection at minimum allowing the research of voting records and whether or not the State candidate also agrees with your native emotions and expectations. If the connection is bad, look at other candidates who support the same views and expectations as you. Remember, political party is only a general starting point however, it should not be the only requirement if a candidate does not support the local views.
Step 5. Go USA. Now it’s time to move to the top of the ballot and choose the national candidate that supports the views and work of your state candidates, who also support the views of your local candidates. This is often the hardest part because it’s time to delve into the murky realm of national politics. Everyone at this level, in a normal election, has been around for a while and made many mistakes and hopefully have had some successes. National candidates have easily searchable histories and robust Wiki pages. There is an overabundance of information available on these candidates, however, if you’ve climbed the ballot, you’ll be able to continue to easily weed out the noise and determine which people at your state level can work with or have worked with the national level and have a record that shows it. Make your choice.
A final word. “Trickle-down” voting is a dangerous way to vote for those who wish to see real change. The people at the national level rarely do much that affects the streets and neighborhoods most of America live in. However our local politicians and measures do affect our day to day. However, the people at top of the pyramid, are the noisiest when it comes to elections and “sling the most mud,” keeping us entertained with the show. The top of the pyramid depend on the “Trickle down” ballot hoping to wear the voter out before we get to those things that truly matter to us. The ballot is designed for and by the top, with their names in large bold lettering at the very top of the very first page. It is this tier that sucks the energy out of elections, discouraging people from voting by making it seem as though there is nothing on the ballot but the top.
However, if everyone learned how to apply the right to vote, in a normal election, “climbing up” the ballot, instead of “trickling down” it would be easier to make an intelligent choice. Personally, in the past I have found myself changing my vote on the national level based on my views at the local level. That is how it should be and I was taught that was the intent of decentralizing government and allowing states local control.
I hope I wrote this in a manner that makes sense to the new voter and helps those who have become disenchanted with the electoral process. In a normal election, it would be easy to research and determine which people at a local and state level can work together with the national level and vote accordingly. This year, someone at the national level jumped over all the steps straight to the top. Because of this phenomenon, it is even more important that everyone who votes, “Climbs Up” the ballot. It’s the only way to make sure life on your street, changes in the way you want it too.
**Stepping down from the soapbox.**