How to Register to Vote: 5 Tips for Millennials to Get Informed

As the election draws ever-closer, how will millennials decide to vote, and what information should they be taking into account when they do so? On National Voter Registration Day, let's take the time to explore how voters should be learning about political candidates.

In part one, we discussed the historical preponderance of wealthy men in the highest elected offices of the United States, as well as the importance of the concept of " One Person/One Vote."

Money is important in the American political process, but it is not sovereign. If it was, the guy with the most dollars would win, instead of the guy with the most votes. Case in point: the campaign Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is currently waging to retain his seat against a Tea Party challenger who is outspending him something like 7:1.

Part two introduced the concept of party platforms, and outlined the reasons party affiliation is important in the funding of campaigns.

A party’s “platform” is the official statement of policy and guiding principles by which that party intends to govern. It reflects the values of the party and – if read carefully – offers insight into the priorities with which issues will be addressed in a future Administration. There is no legal requirement that individual candidates for office embrace every single item in the platform, although some parties are more rigid about discipline than others. The presidential candidate is considered the “standard-bearer” for the party and carries the most responsibility for the platform statements.

(You can find links to the four major party platforms for the 2012 election here: DemocraticRepublican, Libertarian and Green.)

Democrats and Republicans, the two longest-established parties, have the wherewithal to support candidates for office through their Senate and Congressional funding committees. Historically, independent and/or third party presidential candidates have not fielded full slates of candidates for office in every state.

Thus, there are no “coattails” for Senate, House and state legislative candidates to hold onto to be elected … and little percentage in the putative independent/third party presidential candidate’s clout to be able to enact his legislative program.

So, how does a voter decide among candidates for any particular office; let alone the dozens of them that could possibly be on a ballot? Let’s dispense with: “I’ve always voted Democratic (or Republican).” That’s neither thinking nor deciding.

The platforms are a starting place. If you’re a millennial voter, perhaps the issues that affect you the most are jobs, economic development and education. Compare what each party says about those issues in the pertinent sections of their platforms. Which statements resonate with you, personally? Which party has the best chance of enacting its vision into legislation in the next Congress?

The next step is to look for information about individual candidates. Here are the top five thing to keep in mind:

1) What was the voting record of the incumbent on the issues? Does the challenger have some kind of voting record in a different office that indicates support or opposition to important issues?

2) As we have seen repeatedly this election cycle, candidates run afoul of the ubiquity of videotape —something he/she said a few years ago is different than what he/she is advocating now. Why? Is this flip-floppy pandering, or has this person’s thinking evolved to fit changed circumstances?

3) Facts are distinct from other forms of input about candidates and issues. Look for these first — from reliable source, such as: state legislative websites listing all bills presented in the session and how your representative voted on each (the U.S. House and Senate also maintain such websites), AAUW and the League of Women Voters.

4) Opinions and analyses —such as we do on PolicyMic — are also valuable sources of information. If there is/are opinion leaders whom you trust to be honest with you, those opinions are worthwhile input into your decision-making process. Analysis is distinct from opinion in that it presents an interpretation of data; it reasons in logical steps from factual evidence to conclusion.

5) Talking points are short statements or slogans which campaigns manufacture to compress complex ideas into memorable list items. Opinion pieces, op-eds and blog entries are important ways to learn to recognize talking points. If you see the same words and ideas, repeated in the same order in multiple places… you’ve identified a talking point. In general, talking points are only conducive to constant repetitive broadcasting, so that the idea sticks in voters’ minds.