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How to Research Candidates in the Upcoming Election

In less than a month, people across the country will vote for the next president, as well as other state and local offices. If you want to vote, it’s important to make sure you are registered and know about your voting options, such as early voting and requesting an absentee ballot.

It’s just as important that you are familiar with the races on your local ballot so you can make informed decisions. Most state election sites have a list of candidates or a sample ballot. This can help you become familiar with who is running for office.

Check Voter Guides

If you want to learn more about the candidates’ views on topics that matter to you, then you might want to check the candidates’ websites or a voter guide. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, produces an online voter guide where you can find a sample ballot, candidates’ answers to specific questions, and links to the candidates’ websites.

There are many organizations that produce voter guides to encourage voting for certain candidates based on the priorities of the group, such as the environment or health care. These organizations may be able to help you find information about the candidates’ positions on issues that matter to you.

Many state and local organizations, such as newspapers, also produce voter guides. These can be a good way to find additional information about local issues of interest.

If you are unsure of where to look for information about a candidate or want to find a local voter guide, check with your local public library.

Research Voting History

If a candidate is currently in office or previously held office, then you can also view the person’s voting history. In order to do this, you need to know information about a piece of legislation the candidate voted on, such as bill name or number.

If the candidate served in Congress, you can find voting history by visiting and checking the Major Actions tab on a piece of legislation, such as Senate bill 3187. Here you’ll find links to Senate sites that contain a record of the vote on the bill.

If the candidate served in a state office, then try checking your state legislature’s website for similar information.

Some organizations may also add voting history on specific issues to their voter guides.

Don’t Forget Ballot Measures

In addition to voting for candidates, you may be presented with ballot measures, additional questions about issues impacting your state or local community.

Your state election site or sample ballot should also have information about any ballot measures that you will vote on in November. A state or local voter guide may also include details about the issue that can help you determine how to cast your vote.

Track Fundraising and Spending in Federal Elections

Do you ever wonder how much money candidates spend to run in federal elections in the United States or where the money comes from?

The Federal Election Commission’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal provides access to the campaign finance data that candidates and their supporters must share by law. Use maps, charts, and other tools to learn about donations and expenditures in the Presidential and Congressional races.

For example, you can

Find out how you can request an absentee ballot to vote if you are not available on election day.

5 Things You Should Know about the Elections

Voting is a right and a civic responsibility. And like millions of U.S. citizens, you will have the chance to exercise your right to vote during the Presidential Election of 2012.

Your vote on November 6, 2012 will help elect the next President of the United States, as well as other representatives at local, state and federal levels, including mayors, governors, congressional representatives and senators.

Below you will find five important facts about voting in the United States, including resources to help you register to vote and information on how to vote.

1) Voting Is Voluntary

Voting is the essence of democracy. Unlike other countries, voting in the United States is voluntary. Some people vote in person at the polls, while others vote by mail days or weeks before the actual election date. Regardless of how you do it, it’s important that all U.S. citizens who qualify participate in the democratic process of electing public officials.

2) States Establish Voting Rules

To vote in federal elections you need to be a U.S. citizen and be at least 18 years old, although some states allow 17-year-olds to vote. In fact, the states establish voting rules, including the requirements to register to vote, registration deadlines, and where to send your voting form. You may be able to register at a variety of places, including state and local voter registration offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and public assistance agencies. You might also be able to register by mail using the National Mail Voter Registration Form, but not all states accept it. Check with your state election office to learn how to register in your state.

3) Voter ID Laws Vary by State

Voter identification requirements also vary by state. Therefore, it’s important to figure out the documents you might need to show before going to your polling place on November 6, 2012. Some states require voters to show proof of identity before voting, such as driver’s licenses, passports or military papers. Your state election office can tell you what documents are required in your state.

4) You Can Vote If You’re Living Abroad

Federal law allows U.S. citizens to vote if they are living abroad. This includes members of the Armed Forces, federal employees, and other U.S. citizens who reside outside the United States. U.S citizens living abroad can request an absentee ballot by using the Federal Post Card Application (PDF). For more information about voting from abroad, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

5) There Are Several Ways to Participate in the Elections

Voting is not the only way to participate in the electoral process. If you would like to get more involved you can always volunteer at a polling place. Some states have specific requirements such as being a registered voter or meeting certain age requirements. You might have to be affiliated with a political party and reside in the state where you plan to volunteer. Check with your state election office to find out more.

Image description: Mrs. John Rogers Jr. campaigns for the right to vote sometime between 1910 and 1915. This photo was taken by the Bain News Service.
View other Bain News Service photos showing life in the 1910s.
Photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Image description: Mrs. John Rogers Jr. campaigns for the right to vote sometime between 1910 and 1915. This photo was taken by the Bain News Service.

View other Bain News Service photos showing life in the 1910s.

Photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division