Ballot Research Basics

Election 2020 is the finals exam you knew was coming all semester, and still waited until the night before to cram. There are 12 propositions, 4 measures and 10+ candidate races on the ballot. Let’s be honest, regardless of your education level or intelligence, the language used on our ballots is not the easiest to understand. So how do you know if you are making a “good” decision? You have to do the research. Otherwise, you might be easily swayed by commercials and social media ads that are meant to change your opinion by using imagery that evokes strong emotions: sadness, disgust and, especially, anger.

The most common way to understand your ballot is to consult a voter guide. Official voter guides produced by your state provide information about all the items on the ballot: text of propositions/measures, what a “yes” or “no” vote means, and details about candidates’ background and goals.

CA Secretary of State Official Voter Guide

Unofficial voter guides can be produced by anyone: an individual, organization, club, church, or other groups. Unofficial voter guides have one glaring difference: they usually provide a “yes” or “no” recommendation for each ballot item based on the beliefs/positions of the group. It is up to you as an individual to decide whether a group’s voter guide is worth following.

Community Coalition Unofficial Voter Guide (Not intended as an endorsement.)

Official voter guides have their limitations; mainly, they don’t necessarily provide all the context you may want to have as a voter. So what you can do? Look for nonpartisan and neutral voter guides. Two of the most often recommended online guides are BallotPedia and Voter’s Edge CA.

The websites are provided by nonprofit organizations whose goal is to provide accessible information to all voters. You can use either site by entering your address to see your local ballot and all the information they have collected about it. It is VERY helpful to have all the answers to your question in one place!

Remember these tips as you research your ballot:

  • Start with your state’s official voter information first.

  • Look for nonpartisan (not produced by any political party) and neutral (not arguing for any specific perspective) sources of information.

  • Bias isn’t bad, but you need to be aware that a person or group’s perspective DOES affect the information they provide to you.

  • Check the “about us” section of any website you may use. You’ll be able to see their mission, perspective and funding sources.

Last, but not least, breathe a sigh of relief because you’re an informed voter who has made your voice heard through the ballot. Wear your “I voted” sticker with pride!


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