What’s on your ballot?

The 2020 election is now underway across the United States. In Utah, people are filling out their mail-in ballots; elsewhere, people are waiting in lines that may last hours in order to make their voices heard. Every vote can make a difference. So, how do you make sure you are casting your ballot in a way that represents your interests? What does it take to be an informed voter?

“Voting is fundamental to the exercise of democracy. It is about expressing a preference or making a choice” said Matthew Burbank, professor of political science. “And while citizens can express their views in an uninformed way, it is much more important to the person casting the vote and to the practice of democracy if it is well informed.”

The easiest decisions for most voters are normally at the top of the ballot. In the big ticket races like president or governor, most voters have heard enough about the candidates, or have a strong enough party affiliation, that they know who they are going vote for long before they step into the booth or open their ballot envelope. However, there are other races and issues for voters to consider that they may know very little to nothing about.

“There’re often, not always, but often all kinds of other things on there that are important and are not clearly structured in partisan terms.” said Burbank. “One example of that this year are constitutional amendments and another example is the judges.”

Let’s start with the judges. Voters are asked on the ballot if judges, previously appointed by the governor, should retain their seats on the bench. It’s a hire or fire question. Since most voters don’t spend their days in a courtroom, they may need help determining the right way to vote.

“The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission evaluates judges on a regular basis and when there are judges on the ballot for retention elections, they’ve done an evaluation,” said Burbank. “Those evaluations are available on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission’s website.”

When it comes to the constitutional amendments Burbank suggests voters start at the source: the elections section of your state’s website. Here you will find all the information you need about the amendments including how they fared for votes in the legislature, the fiscal effects they may have and when they take effect.

If you are looking for more information on the impacts amendments may have, or more information about candidates in any race you may have to do some more digging. There are lots of resources are available on the internet, but as with anything on the internet, you need be sure you are looking at reliable and unbiased sources. In other words, it’s probably better not to take voting advice from Facebook posts.

Project Vote Smart, for example, does a very good job generally of collecting and presenting information,” said Burbank. “Utah Foundation is another organization that does a good job. They are very explicit in letting voters know they are only providing information, and not trying to slant their views.”

It’s also a good idea to check several sources when deciding how to vote. Getting information from many points of view will help you make a more informed choice and cast the votes you feel are in your best interest, and in the best interests of the country. Your vote is a powerful tool, and you should treat it as such by not casting it lightly or without well considered reasoning. After all, it will impact the makeup of your local, state and federal governments for some time to come.