Sunday, March 24, 2024

What should a conscientious voter do to become informed?

What should someone do to research candidates or issues before an election?

A reader we’re calling Harris recently emailed observing that it is a presidential election year and he wants to cast an informed vote. He mentioned that in addition to the presidential and gubernatorial candidates who will appear on his ballot where he lives in North Carolina, there are likely to be “a total of 56 candidates running for 13 offices.”

In spite of all the promotional flyers sent out, Harris contended that the average person, including him, has no clue as to who the best candidates are – “especially the non-political ones, like state auditor or commissioner of insurance.” Harris asked a town council member for his recommendations, but he suspects the guy doesn’t really know any more about the more “obscure” offices than Harris does.

“My local McClatchy newspaper has probably dug deeper into those candidates than my town councilman has had time to do,” wrote Harris. “It has made some recommendations that conflict with his, probably reflecting opposing political points of view.

“What should a conscientious person do when he/she can’t invest a lot of time researching candidates, especially when the ‘mainstream media’ or other resources aren’t neutral?” asked Harris. “Rely on an equally uninformed friend?”

Harris believes we are all victims of too much information and is concerned information overload will get even worse “now that artificial intelligence looms large.”

I applaud Harris and others who are committed to voting in local and national elections. That Harris wants to become as informed as possible about the issues and candidates running before he casts his vote strikes me as a good thing. Anyone who wants to take even a small bit of time to become an informed voter should be able to do so.

Harris has already tried one avenue that I would have suggested and that’s to search the newspaper covering his local area for election information. Where local newspapers don’t exist, this proves a challenge and Harris indicated that what he found in his local newspaper left him wanting more.

The online sites for the various state election agencies that oversee local elections can be a useful resource. Harris can find a link to those agencies here.

I also spoke with Ashley Spillane, the president of Impactual, a consulting firm whose mission is to focus on “creating a healthy democracy.” (Full disclosure: I’ve known Ashley since she was a graduate student in a course I taught.) While Ashley is someone who’s worked vigorously for years to help get people out to vote, I wanted to know what nonpartisan resources she turns to for the type of information Harris seeks.

“There are two resources I use to help fill my ballot out all the way down to the most local races,” she responded: BallotReady and Vote 411, a site run by the League of Women Voters. As an election draws closer, each site will include information on national and local ballots. Users can type in their location to get information on the elections in which they can vote.

Again, I applaud Harris for wanting to become as informed as he can. Making certain that accurate information is available for him and others who want it to use is the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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