Vote smart: Research candidates first

On November 4 of this year, some of us voted. Statistically about 25 percent of college-age young adults actually vote in mid-term elections. It can be pretty difficult to vote as a college student, as we are often far from home. Luckily, we have an absentee voting system that sends you your ballot and allows you to make your decision before mailing it back. I’ve voted absentee since I’ve been in college. This year, I sat down on a couch, and for about two hours, did research on all the main political candidates, trying to make an informed decision, which is really hard given the amount of disinformation out there.

I mean, really, how many of us can name our senator? Representative? What about those who are running for state representative? I won’t even mention the various city offices that appear near the bottom of the ballot. How should we make those decisions? The easiest way, of course, is to simply check the box of the candidate from one’s preferred party. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior only reinforces the strength of our two-party system.

Problems like this are easier to spot, but harder to fix. How should we make our voting decisions? If you don’t have a chance to bring your ballot home, you have to make all your decisions in your polling station. It’s possible to find out about some of the candidates for higher offices ahead of time, but how many people take the time to do that? It’s even tougher to find information about candidates for lower office.

Informed voting is difficult, but it can be made easier. One big area is in campaign finance reform, an important issue that is mostly overlooked. Public funding for elections should be expanded, and private contributions to candidates and political action committees or PACs should be severely limited.

Private money is the biggest driver of political campaigns in the United States, and its influence is only growing. The election of 2012 cost a record-breaking $6.2 billion. Fixing this problem will result in campaigns that are cheaper and representatives who are less beholden to the deep pockets of special interest groups.

Informing voters at the polls is more difficult to reform, due to the extreme partisanship of today’s political landscape. Allowing for more absentee voting or even allowing people to take their ballots home with them could help people make a more informed decision.

While all of these government reforms are important, the best thing you can do is to get informed and inform others. Check out Project Vote Smart before you head to the polls to read up about candidates, then go vote for the candidate that best represents you, rather than simply voting for an elephant or a donkey.