Be in the know before being in the booth

Voting is a right, but being informed and involved on issues and candidates is a choice.

As spring primaries bloom throughout the nation, so does the onslaught of media coverage on issues and candidates that may be on your ballot. The best way to ensure that you are prepared with what you need to be ready for election day – now or in the future – is to become an involved citizen and an informed voter.

What does it mean to be an involved citizen and an informed voter?

An involved citizen is one who takes an active role in the planning, decision making, and execution of initiatives that will affect their community, their state, or their country. Being involved can be a huge undertaking (e.g., developing a neighborhood watch program) or a smaller level of participation (e.g., writing a letter to city council in support of a proposed plan). Regardless of exertion, any amount of involvement can be beneficial – for you and the greater community.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “A well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.” What Jefferson did not know was that in the age of constant information overload along with the ability to spread misinformation far and wide, having informed citizens could literally be the difference between upholding democracy and destroying it. By being an informed citizen, you can better understand the political landscape of your neighborhood, state, and nation, and know the validity of the information you hear, whether that comes from a media source, opposing campaigns or candidates, or your know-it-all neighbor.

I want to be involved and informed…but I don’t know where to begin!

Start small! Passionate about a local issue or candidate? Do some research to determine if getting more involved is something you’d like to pursue. Don’t stop at social media, your newspaper, or your local television station to get your news; gather input from the opposing side, attend events where the candidate will speak or the issue will be discussed, and talk to friends and family about their views on the candidate or issue.

Then, if it still speaks to you, reach out to those involved in the campaign. Joining a group that supports an issue you find important or volunteering for a candidate who you feel would make a difference – at the city, state, or national level – is one of the quickest and easiest ways to become an involved citizen. You can volunteer time, funds, or goods to the campaign. You can choose to give as little or as much time as you can. YOU get to decide what level of involvement works for you.

Not sure where to find information that is factual instead of opinionated? Check out these websites that give it to you straight:

Remember, loyalty to only one news source will not give you the entire – or accurate – picture. Reading a variety of narratives, even those different than your political leanings, can help give you a more well-rounded view on those hot topics everyone seems to be discussing.

Now you know so spread the word

Once you have a firm grasp on who or what you’re supporting and how you will support it, it’s time to encourage others to do the same. This doesn’t have to be done by shoving your beliefs or support down their throats; rather, you can encourage them to become involved and informed, remind them when it’s time to vote, and invite them to remain involved even after the last ballot is counted.

Being an involved citizen and an informed voter go hand-in-hand; you can’t have one without the other. The best way to be an informed voter is to do your research and gather information from a variety of places. Then take that information – those issues or campaigns that speak to you – and use them to become an involved citizen. Do both regularly and encourage others to do the same, and you’re well on your way to contributing to the political health of your city, state, and nation’s democracy.

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