The Dos and Don'ts of Picking a Candidate | Election Voter Guide | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Dos and Don'ts of Picking a Candidate

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Good news: There's a ton of easily accessible information out there to help you make your choices in this election. It's never been easier to be an informed voter.

And now the bad news: It's also never been easier to spread false and misleading information, especially online. Here are some tips for tuning in to the signal and tuning out the noise as you weigh your options.

DO

 study the candidates' websites and campaign materials.
Are the issues they emphasize related to the responsibilities of the office they seek?

DO

look at endorsements.
Who supports the candidate, and why? 

DON'T

 just do eeny-meeny-miny-mo.
Seriously?

DO

look at fact-based media coverage
Analysis and opinion editorials may validate your views, but it's important to consider fact-based journalism, as well. Local media outlets employ journalists and editors, and often proofreaders and fact-checkers, who verify what is published or broadcast. Locally, try reading Seven Days or your community newspaper in print or online, browsing VTDigger.org, listening to Vermont Public Radio, and watching the morning or evening news on TV. Both VTDigger and VPR also produced 2020 election guides that are freely accessible online, here and here.

DON'T

vote for someone just because you like their name.
C'mon, really?

DO

read your Front Porch Forum email newsletter.
Lots of candidates, especially those running for local office, use this community-building service to share information and campaign events. Just remember that there are no editors or fact-checkers, and your neighbors might not be the most reliable narrators. Sign up for free at frontporchforum.com.

DON'T

believe everything you see on social media.
Before you like, comment on or share something, stop and ask yourself: Who created this, and why? Is it accurate? Has anyone else replied in the comments with a fact-check? Take a few seconds to search for credible sources reporting the same thing. In a graphic entitled "Sanitize Before You Share," the News Literacy Project also recommends asking the person who shared the post for the original source. "Raising this where others can see it lets them know the claim is questionable."

DO

research interest groups you agree with, and maybe even some you don't.
They often endorse or rate lawmakers on their views and voting records. Here are just a few local examples: Let's Grow Kids, which advocates for high-quality childcare (but does not endorse candidates); the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which support businesses and industry; Gun Owners of Vermont, which fights for Second Amendment rights; Gun Sense Vermont, a group supporting gun-control legislation; Vermont Right to Life, which rallies against abortion and physician-assisted suicide; Planned Parenthood, which promotes reproductive health and rights; Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a consumer and environmental advocacy organization; and the Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market think tank.

DO

talk to your friends, family or people you trust about issues that concern you, even if you disagree.
You might learn something by listening, or sharpen your own views by articulating them.

DON'T

feel that you have to vote in every race.
If you don't feel you can make an informed choice on a particular race or ballot item, it's OK to skip it. You won't spoil your ballot.

DO

reach out to the candidates themselves — digitally, on the phone or in person.
Especially this year, Vermont candidates and their staff and volunteers are eager to connect with voters.

DO

watch or listen to debates.
Debate season has already begun; the presidential candidates have two more head-to-head match-ups, on October 15 and 22. The vice presidential candidates will square off on October 7. Vermont PBS and VPR typically host debates between candidates for statewide office. So does VTDigger. Community newspapers and public access cable channels often host debates for Senate and House candidates. Sometimes advocacy groups do, too.

DON'T

let anyone convince you that your vote doesn't matter.
Did you know that Sen. Bernie Sanders won his first election — for mayor of Burlington — by just 10 votes? Every single vote really does count.

Do Check These Out

Our information landscape is shifting too rapidly for regulators to keep up. As a result, social media companies such as Facebook and YouTube have become conduits for disinformation campaigns and outrageous conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy. The best way to protect yourself — and the rest of us — is to learn how to spot this stuff and avoid spreading it. These nonpartisan media literacy resources will help:

  • News Literacy Project, a national nonprofit organization that helps educate and cultivate informed readers and active participants in democracy.
  • "Your Undivided Attention," a podcast from the Center for Humane Technology that chronicles what’s wrong with our information environment, why it evolved the way it did and how to fix it.
  • The Social Dilemma, a new Netflix documentary that explains how social media algorithms and artificial intelligence are influencing our minds and our actions.