If you wish to be a more informed voter, you’ll want to research your candidates thoroughly before you vote. While they may be running as Democrats or Republicans, there are self-proclaimed anarchists, secessionists, pacifists, socialists, scientists, massage therapists, chicken farmers, hometown heroes, and recent arrestees all on the ballot this year.
It isn’t always easy to be an informed voter, however; especially with state and local offices, there is often very little information available about candidates. That said, we’re here to help you find the information you need in order to vote confidently. Citizens Count is a nonprofit dedicated to providing unbiased information about New Hampshire issues and candidates. We survey and profile the roughly 1,000 candidates for state and federal office in the Granite State every election year. Here’s our guide for researching your candidates.
1. Determine what candidates will be on your ballot
The first step to researching your candidates is—unsurprisingly—to figure out who they are. You can find out who is running for state and federal offices by visiting the Elections page on our website. You can also find sample ballots on the Secretary of State’s website.
If the election is a primary, you’ll be asked to choose which candidates should represent your party on the general election ballot. If the election is a general election, you’ll be deciding who you want to fill the office.
2. Research individual candidates through Citizens Count
Once you know the names of the candidates who will appear on your ballot, you’ll want to look them up individually. You can find information about federal and state candidates on the Elections page of the Citizens Count website. Here are some important details you’ll want to learn about each candidate:
- Where do they stand on issues you care about?
- If they have held office before, what has been their voting and attendance record?
- What other education, life or career experience do they bring to the table?
- You may also be interested in knowing what party they belong to, but keep in mind that any individual candidate may hold a position that goes against their party’s platform. As an example, candidates have very diverse opinions on marijuana legalization.
3. Search candidates by name through other sources
Here are some alternative methods for researching candidates you can try:
- Use Google or another search engine. Try searching “[candidate name] positions on issues” or “[candidate name] [town name] New Hampshire.”
- Check to see if the candidate has a website. Official campaign websites often share the information most important to candidates, such as what motivated them to run for office and which issues are most important to them.
- Search on Facebook to see if they have a Facebook page dedicated to their campaign.
- Candidates may also maintain Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media profiles.
- Keep an eye on the local newspaper as the election approaches. Many local newspapers run profiles of the candidates.
- Look for a local candidate forum, town hall, or debate to attend. Local political parties, chambers of commerce, social clubs, public libraries, and colleges may host local candidate events. These events may be advertised in local newspapers or through Facebook.
- If all else fails, see if you can find a candidate's email address or phone number and try calling them up! Many state and local candidates are happy to talk directly to voters.
If you want to take a really deep dive on a candidate, you can also explore their campaign finance information to see who is donating to them.
- If you are interested in candidates for president, U.S. representative, or U.S. senator, explore the Federal Election Commission website.
- If you are interested in candidates for governor, executive councilor, state representative, or state senator, explore the Secretary of State’s online campaign finance system.
4. Carefully evaluate the information you find
Evaluating the information you find may seem like an obvious step, but fake news, misinformation, and propaganda are widespread these days, so be careful!
If you find an article about a candidate, keep in mind that the author might have a bias for or against the candidate.
Another candidate or organization may label an opponent as “for” or “against” an issue based on a single bill vote, but legislation is very complex. A candidate may have voted against a bill for nuanced reasons, such as a lack of a clear funding source, privacy concerns, or an amendment on a completely different topic.
Statements directly from a candidate, for example on a candidate’s website, may be less likely to be manipulated. However, candidates may use vague language to try to appeal to the broadest group of voters. Phrases like “I will put New Hampshire first,” “every child deserves a quality education,” and even “I support our troops” sound nice but don’t really translate into issue positions. Try to find clear statements on what exact policies a candidate will support (or oppose).
5. Make a “cheat sheet” for the ballot box
Once you’ve researched all the candidates to find those who align with your values, you may find it helpful to make a list of the candidates you wish to vote for. You can do this on paper or as a digital note on your smartphone. Refer to this list when you are in the voting booth.