A College Student’s Guide for First-Time Voters

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By Christina Lanier

College. For many of us, it’s the first time we’ll get to vote on a national (or even state) level. When you turn 18, you are given the opportunity to vote in all of the elections that apply to you- that means city, county, state, and national candidates want your attention. What does this mean for you?

It means you have a lot of information to process. Voting is easy- you stand in line and cast your ballot; or you fill out the ballot and put it in your mailbox to be sent off for counting. Voting is easy- knowing who to vote for is hard.

The first thing to consider is what is important to you. To start, avoid picking a party. We’re often implicitly told that the best way to go is to pick a side- Democratic, Republican, Independent, Tea Party, etc. Sometimes, though, you may find that what you have heard about a party or their members is not the full picture (it could be worse, or better!). Look at each party’s (and official’s) track record. Taking a deeper look at their ideals, history, donors, and future goals can help you decide which way to lean.

Keep in mind what issues matter most to you. Think about your family and your life and how political dogmas or laws have changed your life- for better or for worse. While you are looking through parties and members, keep an eye out for your big-ticket issues. It is okay if you can’t find anyone whose ideals align perfectly with yours- since we all have different life experiences, we are all going to have different political views.

Have you found a politician or party with whom you align? Look at who they support. Are they up for reelection? Or is there a candidate they endorse?  How do you align with the candidate they endorse?

Once you find sitting politicians whose ideals you support, it is a good idea to begin looking at big races- the national race for the presidency, for instance. In the United States, candidates will spend years on the campaign trail before the ballot box even opens. This long campaign period affords you, the voter, the opportunity to not only think long and hard about which candidate deserves your vote, but also how candidates evolve along their journey. Keep in mind how their rhetoric changes- divisive issues can make or break politician, and so can changing opinions on those issues.

One easy mistake is to let the race slip on by. Don’t let that happen! Stay informed- watch your candidates. Keep up with them on social media, television, newspapers. And keep up with your voting days, too. The last thing you want to happen is to miss the voting day after doing such extensive research! Many cities and states will post the calendar dates for each race on their website. When you find the dates, make calendar reminders.

Voting is easy.  Knowing who to vote for is hard.

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