Nicole Freeling, UC Newsroom
National races for Senate and House may dominate the election news cycle, but during the Nov. 8 midterm elections, voters will also weigh in on local issues, from affordable housing to sales taxes to funding for local youth and mental health programs.
“Local politics is the most important part of politics in a lot of ways,” said UC Berkeley student Skylar Betts. These days, the third-year political science major spends most of her lunchtimes tabling on Sproul Plaza, to help students register to vote, learn about who and what is on the ballot, and answer questions about where they can cast their ballot.
“Presidential elections get a lot of attention, but the policies that most affect our day-to-day lives aren’t decided by the President,” Betts said. “They’re decided by officials like the county recorder that you may never even have heard of — and they can be decided by a handful of votes.”
Are you prepared for the upcoming election? Visit University of California: Vote! to learn more.
There are scores of local and statewide measures on the ballot this year. California voters will decide on far-ranging issues that include whether the state Constitution should guarantee a right to abortion, whether to fund electric vehicles through a new tax on billionaires and whether or not to ban the sale of flavored tobacco.
Voters will choose yes or no on those questions, and the side with the most votes wins — no Congress or Electoral College to worry about.
That’s a great thing about direct democracy. But it can be daunting to new voters — especially busy college students with stacks of composition and calculus to contend with.
Fear not, say Betts and her colleagues with UCWeVote, the UC Student Association-sponsored effort to register and educate students across the system.
A few minutes of research is often enough to make an informed choice on an issue. And resources abound — from nonpartisan resource guides to endorsements from political parties and interest groups — to help you bone up on the candidates and issues.
Here are some tips for getting up to speed.
1. Find out who and what is on the ballot
If you’re voting in California, your first stop for information is the voter guide and sample ballot mailed to every California voter. It details state measures along with arguments, organizations and major donors supporting each side.
Voter’s Edge is another nonpartisan resource that lists local measures in California. If offers a feature “for new and busy voters” that provides simple, succinct summaries for each race.
Cal Matters offers a digestible, entertaining and nonpartisan breakdown of the candidates and issues on the California ballot.
The League of Women Voters Vote411 provides nonpartisan tips on navigating the ballot as a first-time voter.
“Some students are registered in their home state because that’s the election that matters the most to them,” Betts said. “But even if you’re away from home, there are plenty of guides and resources that will let you get a comprehensive understanding of the issues.”
2. See who is promoting — and opposing — each measure
Voter initiatives — especially in California — are infamous for being confusing or downright misleading, with titles and descriptions that can make it hard to suss out what the measures will really do.
One way to cut through the confusion: look closely at the organizations and funders backing each side. Is there a group pushing the legislation that has a financial stake in the outcome? What are the policy goals of the groups supporting or standing against the measure?
These, together with third-party endorsements, can offer a clue to a measure’s intent. And help you decide how you want to vote.
3. Consider endorsements from organizations that share your views
Check out the slate of candidates and issues endorsed by the local chapters of political parties and advocacy organizations that you support. It’s also worth checking out coverage from your local news outlets to see what measures and candidates they endorse.
And don’t be afraid to listen to your classmates, including the many UC student organizations that are tabling, hosting forums and developing voter guides.
“There are always a lot of students who feel they’re not aware enough to get involved, and our response is always: We’re here to help!” said UC Berkeley student Alex Edgar, president of UCWeVote.
4. Talk over the issues with your friends
Discuss the issues with friends and family. And make it social: Invite friends to share pizza and discuss the candidates and go over the ballot measures together. See if local clubs and cafes are hosting discussions for talking through what’s on the ballot.
“It’s become a ritual with my dad to sit down and go over our ballot together,” Betts said. “Every election, we call and talk about all the people and issues. It helps us learn more about what’s on there, and it’s a tradition we look forward to every election year.”
5. Don’t sweat it, just vote
Don’t skip voting if you haven’t made up your mind on every issue. It’s okay to leave something blank.
“One of the biggest misconceptions young voters have is that they don’t know enough – there’s stuff on the ballot they don't understand, they don’t know all the people running for office, they’re not educated enough about what’s going on,” Edgar said.
“We’re here to tell them, ‘You do know enough. Even if you don’t fill in everything on your ballot, your perspective is important.’”
Visit University of California: Vote to get more information on how to participate.