Candidates for elected office rarely line up perfectly with a voter’s personal priorities or goals. Many times, voters have never even heard of the candidates. So how does a voter choose the best person for the office? Homework! It’s part of our citizenship duties.
Here is a seven step guide to choosing a candidate.
STEP ONE: Decide what is important to you in the election.
- Learn a little bit about the duties of the contested office. What will the candidate be expected to do as an office holder?
- Decide what you care about, what character traits and experience you want in a candidate for the position. Create a Candidate Report Card listing your priority issues and qualities you want in an elected official.
STEP TWO: Take a look at candidate campaign information.
Visit candidate campaign webpages and social media. Ignore slogans and emotional appeals and look for substance. Does the candidate have a clearly articulated set of goals for the office? What changes – if any – does the candidate propose and why? What experience does the candidate have that makes them a good fit for this office?
STEP THREE: How do others view the candidates?
Do you have a trusted group or person who vets candidates and whose goals align in some way with yours? Audubon, perhaps? NRA? AARP? NARAL? What do these groups and people have to say about the candidates? Candidate ratings or endorsements by these groups can be helpful but keep in mind they can also be misleading, depending upon the organization’s goals. Review the organization’s reputation – is it trustworthy? Is it biased? It is also often instructive to look at which organizations oppose a particular candidate.
STEP FOUR: Rate the candidates on how they campaign.
You can tell a lot about a candidate by how their campaign is run. Voters deserve open, honest and forthright campaigns that actually tell you what the candidate wants to accomplish in office and why. Does the candidate conduct themselves with honor and honesty or do they resort to name-calling, rumor, and loaded statements? Does a candidate promise the sky, evade issues, pass the blame? Or does a candidate offer realistic solutions, give full answers even when unpopular, and reveals costs as well as benefits of their plans?
STEP FIVE: Examine candidates’ campaign finances.
- Who is paying to elect a candidate? Not only which individuals, but which businesses and organizations contribute money? Do your priorities align with those of these campaign contributors? Would their priorities conflict with yours?
- Where candidates get their money can be instructive: do they use their own money? Accept donations from political action committees (PACs), corporations, businesses, or a few rich people?
- Will candidates be beholden to these campaign contributors? To what extent will this drive their performance, once in office?
STEP SIX: Where can you find information on candidates?
- Campaign finance information can be found at the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (for local and state level races) and at the Federal Election Commission (for congressional and presidential races).
- Read your local newspaper(s).
- Listen to TV/radio news reports on campaigns.
- Talk to your friends and family about the election.
- Talk to political parties to see if their platforms align with your priorities.
- Look to nonpartisan information sources such as the State-issued Voter’s Guide, vote411.org, League of Women Voters, Ballotpedia, BallotReady.org, VoteSmart.org, and others.
STEP SEVEN: Choose a candidate!
After you examine your own priorities and desires in a candidate and completed your research, you have the tools to make an informed choice so VOTE!
- Back the candidate you believe will get you closest to your destination, or in other words, the candidate who will work to achieve one or more of your priorities. If that is not possible, choose a candidate who is closest to your priorities.
- Talk to your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors about your selection.
- Don’t tolerate unfair, misleading, or disinformation campaign practices.
- Do ask tough questions of candidates in meetings or candidate forums or debates.
- Be a letter writer: tell newspapers, candidates, and party leasers how you feel about the issues.
VOTE for the candidate of your choice!