Decide Who to Vote For

Learn how to make informed choices by using voter guides and sample ballots to research candidates.

How to Research Candidates

When evaluating who to vote for, it's important to decide what strengths you're looking for in a candidate, to research their positions on the issues, to learn about their leadership abilities, and to recognize any distortions in the information and opinions they express. 

Watch the Debates

Watching debates is an important way to learn more about the candidates and the issues before the election, so you can cast an informed vote. At the same time, you need to view debates with a careful eye to get the most information. Learn what to look for before, during and after a debate.

Know Who is Running and Research Their Views

Many candidates running for office will have a website that states their views and positions on various subjects. In addition, voting guides may provide information about the views of a candidate or answers to certain questions. Various sources, such as issue-specific organizations and newspapers, produce these guides. 

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. The Council on Foreign Relations Campaign 2016 site allows you to browse each candidate’s position on the issues and to contact the candidate’s campaign office for more information.

Research a Candidate Who is Holding or Has Held an Office

A candidate’s voting history is public. If the candidate is running for federal office as a Representative or Senator, you can find their voting record on Congress.gov. For those who have held state office, you can contact your state legislature website.

For candidates holding county or local offices, contact your local government.

Further Information

For information about where and how to vote, or for ballot measures in your state, contact your state election office.

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Sample Ballots

Sample ballots can be helpful to review before Election Day and to bring with you to the polls. Your state or territory may mail you a sample ballot prior to Election Day or allow you to download one from its election site. The sample ballot may look exactly like the real one you see when you vote and will show you all the races—federal, state, and local—and candidates you’ll be able to vote for, as well as any state or local propositions or measures being decided.

Some non-profit organizations also produce unofficial sample ballots for elections throughout the U.S., based on locality. These ballots may not look identical to what you’ll see when you vote but will provide the same information. They are different than the sample ballots often provided by the major political parties. Those ballots, which you may receive in the mail or be offered by volunteers as you approach your polling entrance, feature the candidates representing that party.

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Write-In Candidates for President

In addition to the candidates listed on your ballot, you may be able to write in the name of a different candidate for President. Most states allow this. However, writing in a name doesn’t mean that vote will count. Most states require write-in Presidential candidates to file paperwork before the election. Otherwise, the state may not tally the candidate’s votes.

Nine states don’t allow write-in candidates for President, though a couple of these states do allow write-in candidates for other offices. Of the 41 states that do allow write-in candidates for President, 33 require these candidates to file paperwork in advance. Check with your state election office to find out the rules for your state.

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Last Updated: March 14, 2017

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