How to Research Candidates
When deciding who to vote for, there are many things to consider. It's important to:
Decide what strengths you're looking for in a candidate.
Research their positions on the issues.
Learn about their leadership skills.
Recognize distortions in the information and opinions they express.
Learn about ways candidates distort information and sway perceptions. (PDF, Download Adobe Reader).
Watch the Debates
Watching debates is a good way to learn about candidates and issues. At the same time, you need to view debates with a careful eye to get the most information.
Know Who is Running and Research Their Views
Most candidates have a website with their positions on various topics. Voter guides can also give information on candidates' views. Newspapers and issue-specific organizations often produce voter guides.
Research a Candidate Who is Holding or Has Held an Office
A candidate’s voting history is public. You can find the voting records of candidates for U.S. representative and senator on Congress.gov. For those who have held state office, check your state legislature website.
For candidates holding county or local offices, contact your local government.
To learn more about ballot measures in your state, contact your state election office.
Sample ballots can be helpful to review before Election Day and to bring with you to the polls. Your state may mail you a sample ballot or let you download one from its election site. The sample ballot may look exactly like the real one. It will show you all the races and candidates and any state or local measures up for a vote.
Some non-profit organizations produce unofficial sample ballots. These ballots may not look the same as what you’ll see when you vote but will provide the same info. They are different than the sample ballots provided by political parties. Those ballots show the candidates representing that party. You may receive one in the mail or from volunteers outside your polling entrance.
Write-In Candidates for Federal and State Elections
Besides the names on your ballot, you may be able to write in names of other candidates. Most states let you write in votes for president, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative. They also allow write-in votes for governor and other state offices.
But writing in a name doesn't mean that vote will count. Many states demand that write-in candidates file paperwork before the election. Otherwise, the state won't count the person's votes.
Forty-one states allow write-in candidates for president. Most demand the candidates file paperwork in advance. Nine states don’t allow write-in candidates for president but may for other offices.
Check with your state election office to find out the rules for your state. If you check using your state’s election website, enter “write-in candidates” in the search bar.
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Last Updated: October 30, 2018