Guide to Casting an Informed Vote

Becky RasmussenNews

By Joani Alsop, FOCUS Director of Learning

I’ve adopted principles to help me meet my responsibilities as a U.S. citizen to participate in our democracy. I’ve also found research links that have been helpful in navigating the sea of biased information to help me better understand the candidates and issues on my ballot, and to think critically about the impact of my vote so that I may express my voice and my values in a way that I hope benefits the greater good. I share them with you in hopes that the information below may help you better participate in our democracy.

3 Principles of Voting
  1. I commit to vote in every election, big or small. It’s a right that people have died to gain and defend, a privilege of our democracy, and a responsibility to uphold with our participation. Even if there’s only one small item on my ballot, I research it and I vote. This helps me stay informed and participate in my community. Advocacy and donation efforts matter, yet if I don’t vote for the laws and lawmakers that allow change to take root, these other efforts aren’t sustained. Voting is vital!
  2. I cast an informed vote. In today’s democracy and political environment, I’m aware there is not only an abundance of information but often an overwhelm of paid or highly biased information and propaganda designed to grab my attention, elevate my fears, and manipulate my mind to essentially hijack my vote for someone else’s purpose. I want to make choices through my vote that reflect my values.
  3. I vote for what I hope and believe will make the world a better place for all. No one wants to lose. Moving past win/lose, right/wrong thinking to what I think is helpful to as many as possible helps me support the spirit of the Constitution to promote the general welfare of all the people.

Below are guidelines I use to help implement these three principles.

Principle #1:  Learn the district information for where you live.

I’ve learned what municipality, township, ward, school district, fire district, county council, state senate, state rep, and congressional district I live in. The voting identification card or election notice mailed to me also includes this information.

I started by finding my county board of election commissioners. An online look-up feature using my address helps me obtain a sample ballot, usually available four to six weeks before elections, which are usually the first Tuesday in March, April, August and/or November.

Election dates in Missouri in 2020, are:
March 10, 2020, Missouri Presidential Primary (Only 29% of all voters participated in their primary elections in 2016!)
April 7, 2020, General Municipal Elections
August 4, 2020, Primary Election
November 3, 2020, General Election

Election dates in Illinois in 2020, are:
March 17, 2020, Missouri Presidential Primary
November 3, 2020, General Election

For the March Presidential primaries, it will be important to verify who is still running for president right before the election date.  Presidential primary ballots are printed at least six weeks before the elections and may not be completely up to date as of the date of the election.

Here are links to most election boards/voting info in counties around the Greater St. Louis area:

St. Louis County
St. Louis City
St. Charles County
Jefferson County
Franklin County
Warren County
Lincoln County

St. Clair County
Madison County
Jersey County
Bond County
Clinton County
Monroe County
Macoupin County

Additional voting rights information for both states can be found at Rock the Vote.

Principle #2: Research the candidates and issues in your district.

I review interviews with candidates from television and print interviews as well as watch town hall debates. I remember that candidates are interviewing for a job. Are they answering and responding to questions as regular people would in a job interview, by providing factual information that shows their experience and respect for the job they are seeking to fill? Distorting or attacking another candidate’s record or personality would not be tolerated in a normal job interview.

I read nonpartisan or bipartisan information on ballot issues and candidates for local, state and federal races from trusted news sources. I try to understand the candidates and issues, their histories and contexts and the problem trying to be addressed through proposed candidates and ballot initiatives. I seek to understand the impact if I vote Yes or if I vote No, especially when ballot language is complex or confusing.

To help with this, I review information from my elected officials on legislative session activities. I review articles and editorials on upcoming election issues and candidates, such as from my local papers as well as papers around the state for statewide elections, to learn the reasoning for their recommendations and contexts surrounding the issues on the ballot. Also I take into consideration endorsements, budgets and PAC influences on candidates and issues to learn who has a vested interest in the results. For local elections, I check local candidates’ websites, county and/or municipal websites regarding ballot issues, and local municipal papers’ editorials. If I have a tough time finding information, I check with a research librarian at the local library for help finding information on the issue, its history and context.

I ignore negative campaigning as well as paid print and broadcast advertising, which are often inaccurate and highly biased to elicit emotions that prevent clear thinking and analysis. Adjectives aren’t facts! Unfortunately, once the brain has reacted to misinformation, it’s much harder to return it to a neutral, learning-oriented state. I guard my mind!

Some voting-related research links include:

I read neutral performance information on judges up for re-election:

Missouri: The Missouri nonpartisan court plan, commonly called the Missouri Plan, has served as a national model for the selection of judges and has been adopted in more than 30 other states.  The nonpartisan plan provides for the selection of judges based on merit rather than on political affiliation.

Your Missouri Judges

I scroll down to find the circuit in which I live to learn and read about the judges in my area who are up for retention. I can review summary information or click on a judge’s picture to learn more in-depth information about his/her background, including specific survey results that make up the summary information/recommendation.

Illinois: Judges in Illinois are chosen by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in uncontested, nonpartisan retention elections to continue serving.  Unlike most states, supreme and appellate court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts.

Ballotpedia Illinois Judges

Principle #3:  I vote for what I believe in and stand for.

I let what I value guide my choices. It provides accountability for me and my elected representatives. For example, if I believe in the power of diversity and inclusion, between two qualified candidates, I choose the candidate who brings a more diverse perspective to leadership and who has demonstrated experience making a difference with diversity, equity and inclusion. I remember that voting against what I don’t want actually creates more of that. (What we focus on expands! What we resist persists.) I vote for what I want to bring forth into the world.

Lastly, I remember that my vote makes a difference. It has been and can be a deciding factor in the future that I help to create.

Thank you for voting!

Updated 9.29.2020