Raise your hand if your general election ballot is still somewhere around the house. Now put it down if you already had plans to mark it and turn it in before Tuesday evening.
Be honest. If this is like most years, half the hands should still be up. And about half of those would be attached to people saying, “Whaddaya mean there’s an election this year?”
Well, maybe more than half of you at least plan to vote, because newspaper readers are usually more consistent voters than nonreaders. It’s a fact that – shameless plug here – wise candidates take advantage through advertising.
Newspaper reporters know, however, that readers don’t hang on every word we write. A few of you even miss a story now and then because you have something called “lives.” That means some of you with good civic intentions are going to open that envelope, pull out a ballot and come across a race or a measure that you know nothing about. Rather than leave it blank, or worse yet, toss the whole ballot in the trash in frustration, here’s Spin Control’s annual last-minute voter assistance.
First thing to do is look around on that stack of unopened mail where you found the ballot. Chances are there’s a state Voters Guide there. It should look suspiciously like the state flag: green with a picture of George Washington in the middle.
The state guide has information about the legislative races – there are two of them in northeast Washington’s 7th District, even though it’s an odd-numbered year – a special Spokane County Superior Court race, and those three pesky advisory votes on taxes the Legislature approved earlier this year.
If you already recycled that with the campaign mailers, don’t despair. It can be found online at the county elections office website and secretary of state website. (Links for these and other voter information in the column can be reached at the newspaper website, www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.)
The state Voters Guide only deals with the first few items on most ballots. Depending on where you live, you also may have races for mayor, city council, school board, fire district or other local offices. In Spokane County, the elections office has a separate online Voters Guide for those races.
The county guide gets its information from the candidates themselves, usually when they file for office in the spring. Candidates usually make themselves look as good as possible, so it may seem that everyone seeking your vote is promising to listen to voters, do the people’s work and give back to the community.
For more in-depth looks at the candidates and issues – another shameless plug – The Spokesman-Review offers Election Center, a compilation of all the coverage for the last several months. It is searchable by individual races and some of the races have issue grids to compare and contrast answers on several questions.
The League of Women Voters has Vote 411, which will give you a personalized list of candidates and issues when you type in your address.
Sometimes voters like to see how like-minded people are voting, and check out endorsements from different organizations. The number of groups making endorsements isn’t as large in this off-year election, but here are a few:
We Believe, We Vote makes recommendations through a star system for candidates who agree to interview, notes those who don’t.
Planned Parenthood Votes, which usually weighs in on legislative races, has a list that extends into some city elections.
Washington Conservation Voters stuck mainly to West Side races, but endorsed a couple of candidates in Spokane.
The Progressive Voters Guide makes endorsements from the top of the local ballot down to some local city and school races.
The Spokane Home Builders Association has a voters guide that covers many city and legislative races.
For voters who like to know where a candidate gets his or her money, or who is spending to influence votes through independent ad campaigns, the Public Disclosure Commission has a Follow the Money feature on its new home page. Enter an address and it will provide pathways to information on campaigns on that voter’s ballot.