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Be an Informed Voter

Voting ballots

Research Before You Vote

How are you supposed to know who and what you can vote for? Where can you get the information you need to make your voting choices?

1. Find out who or what can you vote for by getting a sample ballot.

Find out which candidates are running for office, and which ballot measures will be on the ballot for the upcoming election where you are registered to vote by getting a sample ballot. This is also called previewing your ballot. The items on your ballot are specific to the street address where you are registered to vote so that you can vote for national, state, county, and district issues. 

2. Research candidates and issues.

Find out who you want to vote for by researching candidate platforms or voting records. Here are some places to look: 

  • Candidate websites. This is where you can find candidate platforms - also known as their official positions on issues that matter to voters - their plans for policies or laws if they are elected, and background information on them as a person. 
  • Local news outlets. Newspapers, local news websites, local TV news channels, or other local publications sometimes publish candidate surveys or voting guides. They also host debates, town hall discussions, Q&As, or listening sessions with all of the people running for local office. Local news outlets are also a good place to look for news articles about people who are running for reelection so you can learn about their past actions.
    • For example, if you are voting in the Kansas City area, the Kansas City Star and the Shawnee Mission Post host candidate forums or debates. You can watch or listen to those events, or read about them afterwards. Get free library access to the Kansas City Star and the Shawnee Mission Post.  
  • Candidate surveys. If you can find one, a candidate survey where each person running for office answers the same set of questions is a good way to compare candidates. Local news outlets often perform these surveys and publish the answers.
    • For example, if you are voting in the Kansas City area, the Kansas City Star creates an extensive voter guide. Get free library access to the Kansas City Star.
    • The Shawnee Mission Post sends questionnaires to every candidate running for office and publishes the answers of every one who sends back their answers. Get free library access to the Shawnee Mission Post.
  • Voting records. When a person is running for reelection or has already served as an elected official before, you can look up the record of how they voted on laws or resolutions. Official votes are in the public record, so you can search for a candidates name and "voting record" to see if they voted for or against things you agree with. 
  • Judge reviews. Judges are elected officials, and they run for reelection often. Sometimes a legal organization will do performance reviews of judges and publish their findings. Search to see if there's one in your state; don't forget to check into the organization who performed the reviews. 
  • Local groups who do work with causes connected to people or issues you’re voting on. These might be local organizations, civic groups that organize around a cause (which might be specifically political), non-profit organizations, or community clubs.
  • Public libraries. The public library in your area will often create an election guide; check their website for a page that lists local and state election information, and links to local resources about candidates. For example, if you are voting in the Kansas City area, you can find election information from: 
3. Research ballot measures.
  • A ballot measure, also called a "proposition," "question," "referendum," or "initiative," is a proposed law, and you will vote YES or NO to making it a law. 
  • Read the text of the ballot measure before election day to make sure you understand what it says, and what a YES or NO vote means.
  • Check to see if you agree with the proposal as a law.
  • Look up the history of the proposal by Googling the name of the ballot measure.
  • You might find official documentation about the proposal, or you might find news articles discussing it. 
  • See what groups of individuals proposed it, support it, and oppose it. 
  • As you research the proposal, make note of what types of information you are reading, like political advertisements, articles from well-known news sites, information from political organizations, articles from sites that declare a political position, or information from non-partisan groups. (Non-partisan means the group does not officially identify with or support an established political party.)
4. Ask questions about your research.

When you search for information about candidates, issues, or ballot measures, ask yourself questions like the following about the sources of information that you find:

  • Who is speaking? What person or organization wrote, recorded, paid for, or published this information?
  • Who are the sources? Where did the writer or speaker's information come from? Are those sources credible? Are the sources representative of the entire situation, or is another perspective being left out of the story? 
  • What bias is present in this information? Bias is the presence of preconceived ideas that influence the way a person thinks about something; in other words, beliefs you already have that make you for or against something, and it can be positive or negative. Bias is nearly always present in any information source, but that may or may not be a problem. Consider biases, and then decide how the information helps you. 
  • Whose perspective is represented? Whose perspective is missing? Think critically about who is writing the story, what facts they are offering and what facts might be missing, who they quote or list as a source of information, and whose quotes or perspective they might be leaving out. Are all the information sources from similar people, or similar organizations, or people with the same political point of view? 
  • Who paid for this? You can search for information to see which people or organizations give money to political campaigns. You can also search to see who owns a publication where you read an article, or what organizations pay for or run a website where you found information.
  • Fact check? Confirm the information against other original sources, especially if it seems sketchy, too good to be true, or too bad to be true. 
5. Make notes and bring them with you to vote.
  • You are allowed to bring whatever notes you want with you to vote. Some polling places restrict use of cell phones, so either check the rules at your polling place, or bring a paper copy of your notes or guides.
  • Also! Check your polling place rules because some do not allow you to take a photo of your completed ballot, making ballot selfies against the rules. Take a selfie wearing your "I Voted" sticker, instead!