The Blue Wave seems to be in full effect across the country with Andy Beshear unseating Matt Bevin in the gubernatorial race in Kentucky — though Bevin is reticent to concede — and a satisfying result for democrats in the elections in Hamilton County. Things are looking good as increased voter turnout in Indiana, Texas, and Kentucky is showing local, state, and federal governments that voters are energized, especially considering the turnout in an odd year where only local elections are at stake. However, it is important to remember that there are some things every voter should consider and be aware of before they cast their ballot.
Protect Yourself From Manipulation
Everything from television appearances and political advertisements in their various forms to even political candidate’s logos are all designed and coordinated to make voters feel a certain way in an attempt to sway their vote. When it comes down to it, all politicians are essentially selling themselves as a brand, and in doing so engage in manipulative advertorial practices. This happens on both sides of the aisle, and regardless of whether or not a candidate is lying in attack ads or just putting out run-of-the-mill political advertising, as a voter you are being manipulated in some form be it overt or not.
The biggest current player in the ongoing saga of manipulative political ads is Facebook. Facebook’s political advertising is incredibly targeted based on the bevy of information that Facebook and other social media platforms collect on their user bases to sell to the highest bidder, and as it has been shown recently in the news, Facebook does little vetting of the political advertising they allow on the platform. The political advertisements that you see on Facebook might not even come from a candidate you support, but as long as the advertising itself elicits a strong reaction — elation, excitement, sadness, or even anger — that gets you to share and spread the message, it has done its job.
The first step in protecting yourself from manipulation through political advertising is education. You can’t combat falsehoods if you’re unaware that they are even occurring. While Facebook says that it is currently working with Mozilla to develop an API that can assist in identifying why and how political advertisements reach you and who and where those advertisements come from, Facebook has also been slow to provide the appropriate data to make that a reality.
Make Sure You’re Still Registered
There has been a concerning trend in recent years of increased instances of attempted and successful voter suppression. Voter suppression is usually targeted towards young college students, people of color, and other voting blocs that tend to lean democratic when they head to the polls. Combined with the frantic efforts from the Republican Party to preserve gerrymandered districts that are beneficial to them, the recent rise in voter suppression is just another signal that the right is scared of losing power.
While suppression of the vote is by no means a new phenomenon, it is especially important to ensure that you don’t fall prey to voter suppression while the stakes are so high. Voter suppression comes in many forms from the reduction or relocation of polling places and strict voter ID laws to exact match signature requirements and the failure to process voter registrations in a timely manner. By restricting citizens’ ability to do their civic duty, the politicians that condone and engage in voter suppression are taking away the most powerful tool available to the public in a democracy.
The most egregious and seemingly popular method of voter suppression in the last couple of years has come in the form of the purging of voter rolls. From 2016 to 2018 at least 17 million voters were purged across the nation with states that have had a history of voter discrimination purging rolls at a rate 40% higher than the national average. While this is an abhorrent practice, it is relatively easy to check whether or not you’re still registered to vote in your state, which can help you to determine if you need to register in an appropriate time frame before the next election.
Vote Properly Informed
Regardless of whether you decide to vote early through absentee-by-mail or absentee-in-person or if you choose to wait in the often brutally long polling lines, it is important that you go in informed. Many voters are single-issue voters or have no qualms about voting strictly on party lines, but it is still important to know what your future elected official’s stances on major issues might be.
Being an informed voter entails an understanding that political ads are exactly that: advertisements. Additionally, it means knowing when, where and how to vote. To ensure that you are as informed as possible before you enter the voting booth for any election, do an appropriate level of research using valid and reliable sources. When listening to debates, attempt to separate the candidate and the feelings that you may have towards them from their policy and what they are actually saying. Many successful politicians have had long careers in which they implement political rhetoric to such a degree that they never really give a straight answer about any important policy.
There also exists a huge array of election tools that exist to help you become a more informed voter, whether in local, state, or federal elections. These tools attempt to cut through the jargon and falsehoods to provide clear, accurate information in an easy format. It is important to verify that any of these tools, and to a greater extent any resources that you use when doing election research, are free of bias going either way.
Voting is really the only way that the American people are able to have their voices heard in government. Change starts at local elections and works its way up, which makes every election, even the most seemingly frivolous, important to participate in.