How to vote! A beginner’s guide for the unintentionally ignorant

How to vote! A beginner’s guide for the unintentionally ignorant

“Are you registered to vote?”

“Do you know who you’re going to vote for?”
“You’re going to vote, right?”

“You’d better do your public duty and vote!”

“Have you voted yet?”

There’s a theme here: “You’d best go and vote, or you’ve failed in your duties as a citizen.”

Now, I’m not saying that I disagree with that. Voting is definitely necessary for an indirect democracy like ours to function. And, we certainly can’t much complain about the actions and decisions of our elected representatives if we haven’t even used our opportunity to make an impact.

Here’s what I am saying: I have absolutely, unashamedly, unequivocally, no idea how to vote. I don’t even know how to start. Even if I’d managed to register myself to vote, I would still have had no idea who to vote for or what election I’m even voting in!

Sound familiar? If this confusion doesn’t sound familiar, kudos to you—now get out there and go vote! If you’re with me, stranded in the land of the confused and clueless, let’s try to find some clarity on this “voting” business.

Types of elections

Main elections? National elections? Local elections? General elections, municipal elections, primary elections? Primaries—is that like primary, where all of the kids get together to learn about Jesus? There is a seemingly infinite number of elections, and it becomes confusing to keep track of all of the different types. Below, I’ve summarized the main types of elections you should keep an eye on:

Presidential election. This is the most commonly known election. Once every four years, the president of the United States is re-elected.

Midterm elections: These happen every two “even” years, and sometimes coincide with presidential elections. Each midterm election, all 435 members of the House of Representatives is up for reelection, and approximately 1/3 of the members of the Senate.

Gubernatorial elections: This basically means “elections for your state governor.” The timing of these elections is based off of the state: usually they coincide with midterm elections, but sometimes they occur separately on the “odd” years (as with NJ and VA in the chart below).

All other state and local offices: The timing for these elections varies. These offices are for city mayors and other city offices, but also include the little positions that you may have never heard of: city council members, district trustee, etc. These elections can occur as often as every two years, but every four years is more common.

How to get involved

Even though the 2018 midterm elections have ended, you can still prepare for the next upcoming election! Search online “how to register to vote” and follow the instructions for your state. Then browse around your state’s website to find a sample ballot (I’ve found to be extraordinarily helpful). From there, take a particular position that you’re interested in and search again “who’s running for ___ in [state],” and you’ll be able to begin researching who your options are.

If you start to feel overwhelmed by all of the options and information, don’t worry! Try just focusing on the representatives for the Senate and House of Representatives, and look for someone who reflects your personal values—because remember, that person will be your representative in the larger scheme of the US Government. Even a few short minutes of research is sufficient. And then, get out there and vote! You’ll learn more with experience, but you’ll never learn anything if you never start.

Learn More

Various types of elections:

Sample Ballots and general candidate information:

Chart used: