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Candidate Research and Voter Guides

**Taken from Wellstone Action

Overview

How to: Create a voter guide

(Additional information on holding elected officials accountable can be found here.)

Despite the millions that candidates spend on television advertising, elaborate databases, and campaign events, most people will base their vote on information from people within their social network who they trust and with whom they share opinions.

This is especially true regarding local, less publicized elections where public information is less readily available about candidates. This makes it all the more important that once you have determined an issue that matters to you and how the candidates stand on that issue, that you make it applicable to members of your community.

A few ways to figure out the local angle are:

  • Sit down and talk to local leaders in your community who are directly affected by the issue.
  • Host a town hall meeting or a house party for your friends, neighbors, and coworkers to discuss their thoughts on the issue.
  • Look through archives of your local paper for op-eds or articles about the issue.
  • Research statistical information on how the issue plays out in your state-state websites are often a good resource for this information.

Now that you have collected a vast amount of information about local issues and how the candidates are likely to act on those issues (see below steps 2-5), it is important to put this information together in order to make it available to the wider public. A voter guide will allow you to convey information about candidates and give you a way to have contact with potential voters.

When creating your voter guide, remember:

Include all candidates running for a particular office on your guide. Even if you were not able to get complete information from one or more of them, include what you have. Be sure to highlight key votes and statements that the candidates have made on your issue.

Target the voter guide to your audience when deciding what information to include. If your goal is to get teachers out to vote, your message and information will be tailored differently than if you are trying to educate parents, even if public education might be an issue that is important to both groups.

Include the sources for your information in order to allow voters to look information up for themselves and give your guide credibility. If any individuals or organizations aided you in the financing of printing the guides, include your funders, as well.

Provide contact information on the guide. Identify clearly what organization or group produced the guide and how to get in touch with them.

Step 1: Get Informed

On the other hand, there are also likely to be local elections in your area where information on the candidates is (seemingly) no where to be found. Nevertheless, it is important to get to the truth of the matter in order to educate voters on a particular issue.

A few of the ways to get informed are:

Visit nonpartisan websites that list information about candidates' positions and, if they have previously held office, what their legislative record is. These sites have already done extensive research and are providing the information for just the purpose of educating voters and saving you the time of doing the research.

A few to check out are: www.voterpunch.org, which allows you to search all Congressional records for their performance on progressive issues; www.vote-smart.org, which contains extensive information on national and state candidates' voting records, campaign contributions, stance on the issues and ratings from special interest groups; and www.publicagenda.org, which can help you identify your key issues and find out who supports them and who opposes them.

Visit the Candidates websites. Almost everyone running for office has an official website which lays out their position on the issues. Campaign websites can be a great resources because they provide you with a ton of information, but remember, they are trying to win your vote! So be sure to compare candidates and take what you read with a grain of salt!

Submit a survey to the candidates (Click here for an example)to get their positions on the issues. This is a great idea for state or local elections. It is often a good idea to do so under the affiliation of an organization. Are you on the local PTA? Collectively submit a questionnaire on public education. Member of a local peace coalition? Think of questions you want the candidates to answer about combating violence in your community. Don't be afraid to call the campaigns and gently remind them to return your survey.

Talk to people. That's right, talk to people about politics! Ask people you trust what they think. If you're a member of a local progressive organization, ask the staff. If you volunteer in your community, ask the people you volunteer with. If you're a member of an organization that has a PAC (Political Action Committee) ask the leadership who the PAC is supporting. Ask your neighbors what they know about the candidates. You might even find some kindred spirits!

Expose yourself to a wide selection of media daily. Read local and national newspapers, journals, online weblogs, and television news. Seek out information on the candidates from multiple media sources.

Step 2: Get the Local Angle

This is especially true regarding local, less publicized elections where public information is less readily available about candidates. This makes it all the more important that once you have determined an issue that matters to you and how the candidates stand on that issue, that you make it applicable to members of your community.

A few ways to figure out the local angle are:

  • Sit down and talk to local leaders in your community who are directly affected by the issue.
  • Host a town hall meeting or a house party for your friends, neighbors, and coworkers to discuss their thoughts on the issue.
  • Look through archives of your local paper for op-eds or articles about the issue.
  • Research statistical information on how the issue plays out in your state-state websites are often a good resource for this information.

Step 3: Create a Voter Guide

It should be noted that creating a voter guide is only one way to make this happen. Other ideas include hosting a candidate forum or organizing a letter-to-the-editor writing campaign.

However, a voter guide will allow you to convey the maximum amount of information and give you a way to have contact with potential voters.

(See a real-life example and guide from Cheri Sicard, NORML Women's Alliance -LA Coordinator.)

When creating your voter guide, remember:

Include all candidates running for a particular office on your guide. Even if you were not able to get complete information from one or more of them, include what you have. Be sure to highlight key votes and statements that the candidates have made on your issue.

Target the voter guide to your audience when deciding what information to include. If your goal is to get teachers out to vote, your message and information will be tailored differently than if you are trying to educate parents, even if public education might be an issue that is important to both groups.

Include the sources for your information in order to allow voters to look information up for themselves and give your guide credibility. If any individuals or organizations aided you in the financing of printing the guides, include your funders, as well.

Provide contact information on the guide. Identify clearly what organization or group produced the guide and how to get in touch with them.

Step 4: Get it Out to Voters

Remember, person-to-person voter education works best. Devise a strategic plan for distribution, including your goals on how many you want to hand out and who you want to target.

Set goals. Determine how many voter guides you need to distribute.

Get them printed. You can do this yourself, or "in house", or take them to a print shop. Whenever possible, it is best to use a union print shop to support organized labor-especially if they are one of the constituencies you are hoping to educate on the issues!

Target your distribution. Go to areas or events where there are people who may support your issue. Being non-partisan does not mean that you can't be smart about where and how you distribute your voter guide. Hand them out on street corners, leave a pile in coffee shops and restaurants, and drop some off in college dorms.

Give it to your friends, and have them give it to their friends, and have them give it to their friends... remember, people listen to those they trust about who to vote for.

Set up a table at community events-farmer's markets, fairs, concerts, etc.

As you distribute the guide, sign people up to receive more information closer to election day. Get their names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails. This way, you will have their contact information and can follow up with them to make sure these educated voters get to the polls.

Step 5: Follow Up

In the week leading up to the election day, use all means available to you to make sure that those people know where, when, and how to vote.

Keep the contact information that you gathered while distributing the guides

Invite them to any further voter education initiatives you may have-- candidate forums, house parties or civic dialogues, information sessions on the issues, etc

Get Out the Vote! While you are working hard creating and distributing your voter guide, Wellstone Action will be working hard on the Organizing Corner issue that will outline exactly how to get out the vote. Stay tuned!







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