Image of a ballot being cast in an election
It's not always easy to stay informed. (Photo by Arnaud Jaegers via Unsplash)

A Young Person’s Guide To Being an Informed Voter for the 2020 Election

There can be a lot confusion around voting, but when the stakes are high, it’s important to know what’s going on. Here’s a quick guide.

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Image of a ballot being cast in an election

There can be a lot confusion around voting, but when the stakes are high, it’s important to know what’s going on. Here’s a quick guide.

At best, a normal election year is already hectic with local officials, representatives, senators and presidential candidates on the ballot. This year, it’s even more frenetic, as the election will take place in the midst of a global pandemic. Whoever takes control — whether it’s of the presidency, the Senate or the House of Representatives — will have the power to address mass unemployment, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on America.

Even during these changing times, it’s easy to feel lax about politics and the upcoming election. Between school, work and personal life, the election doesn’t feel very pressing. It’s simply yet another national event that, for now, hovers out of reach. If this year is like most presidential election years, then only 60% of the voting-age population will bother to cast a ballot.

Perhaps even more difficult than simply casting a ballot, though, is being well-informed in the lead-up to the election. When it comes to voting, it can be hard to put a face to a name beyond the presidential candidates, much less know what each candidate stands for.

Although understanding candidates’ backgrounds and platforms can be time-consuming, ultimately, it makes you a more informed voter. Here is a good list of resources for understanding who’s running and what their positions are.

Why Be an Informed Voter?

Being informed about who you’re voting for on the ballot is especially important now because of the polarized atmosphere that we’re in. Many people vote along party lines, often voting for all the candidates under the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, regardless of whether they know who the candidates are or what they stand for.

Unfortunately, politics isn’t black and white. Not every candidate has the same exact agenda as others in the same party. It’s possible that a candidate whose party you align with actually has less in common with your beliefs than a candidate of the opposite party.

Further, politics is constantly embroiled with political rhetoric, which are strategies used to persuade voters to vote for a certain side. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this. If we only rely on a single source, like listening to speeches by the candidates we like, it can be easy to skew our opinions.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities released a comprehensive guide on how political rhetoric works. The guide also includes other strategies that political campaigns use to raise funds and persuade voters to vote for them, and why it’s important to be informed about candidates.

Who, What, When, Where, How

The election process can be confusing, but Vote411, which is supported by the League of Women Voters’ Education Fund, makes things easier. Vote411 asks for your address in order to provide you with information on state-specific voting guidelines, voting registration deadlines, nearby polling places and upcoming debates in your area.

It also has a to-do list for voting and helps you register online to vote. There’s also assistance available if you have a problem or notice one on Election Day.

Ballotpedia also has an excellent resource for looking ahead to see who will be on your ballot. The site will pull up a sample ballot with the relevant local, state and national candidates based on your residence. Depending on your state, you may also have initiatives and referendums to vote on, which Ballotpedia will pull up as well.

Most of the local officials and laws that you are expected to vote on may be unfamiliar to you, but worry not — Ballotpedia allows you to look into each candidate on your sample ballot. For initiatives and referendums, the site explains the implications of a “yes” or “no” vote on the law.

Voting as a College Student

College students have a unique position when it comes to voting. If your permanent address is in one state, but you attend school in another, then you may have the option to choose which state to vote in. This could be crucial, as one state could be considered a swing state while another is solidly Democratic or Republican year after year.

However, there are many nuances to deciding which state to vote in. Depending on the state you’re casting your ballot, your eligibility for certain scholarships may be impacted. Additional documentation may be required as well, if your place of residence on your driver’s license doesn’t match up to the state you’re voting in.

Biden Versus Trump

As American politics become more and more black and white, Democrats versus Republicans, it’s important to avoid contributing to the polarization. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s positions are nuanced.

In order to have a good idea of what exactly they stand for, take a look at the break-down of key issues from Reuters. Retuers’ information is short, to the point and easy to digest, making it excellent for quick reading and understanding.

For more in-depth information, specifically about foreign policy, you’ll want to look at the Council of Foreign Relations’ (CFR) breakdown. The site explains everything from the coronavirus to international relations.

CFR details Trump’s and Biden’s positions and what they’ve said and done in the past. CFR also links to longer articles that more thoroughly explain the issues at hand.

Both sites will continue to be updated as the presidential race goes on, so make sure to check back often for updated information. Looking over the issues again just before you vote can also be an excellent refresher.

Whether you choose to look into Reuters or CFR or both, you can’t really go wrong. Understanding the candidates’ respective stances allows for a window into what the international stage might look like in 2021.

Many people don’t turn out to vote because they believe that their vote doesn’t matter. Individually, a single vote may not account for much. But if too many people believe that their vote doesn’t matter, then the minority gets the say in the election, undermining the very idea of a democracy.

Voting is a privilege. There are still dozens of countries in the world where there is no such thing as voting, where people don’t have the luxury of choosing who governs them.

Turn up for the election this year. Be informed. Vote.

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