Your guide to becoming an informed voter

Voting can be daunting.

Polling places change. Absentee ballots require paperwork. Complex ballot proposals lead to confusion and questions. Some candidates spend more time throwing shade at their opponents than promoting their own ideas.

Still, most people agree that voting is a fundamental part of any democracy. Read a little further to find some resources ­– local, statewide, and national ­– that exist to help you get ready to cast your ballot during the Aug. 2 Primary Election and the Nov. 8 General Election.

How to learn what’s on the ballot

To begin the process, you need to know what decisions face you.

Many municipalities keep updated election information on websites. The Bay County Clerk, for example, includes election dates, links to sample ballots, lists of candidates, past election results, and more on the county website. The City of Bay City has similar information on its website.

If you turn to a municipal website for information, Bay County Clerk Katie Zanotti suggests checking back often to see if any new proposals are added to the ballot.

The other important information you’ll find on government websites are details about how to apply for an absentee ballot or to find your polling location.

If you can’t find that information on your hometown website, try the online State of Michigan Voter Information Center. Here, you can type in your name and address and get a link to key information, such as what to bring with you when you vote. For example, when you walk in, an election worker will ask for your ID. If you have an ID, bring it. If you don’t have one, you can still vote. The state website explains the process.

How to learn about the candidates and proposals

On government sites, you might find a list of candidates and ballot proposals, but not much more. Rarely do municipal websites tell you about the background or promises of political candidates. Ballot proposals are detailed, but it’s difficult to know how the measures impact different groups.

On the Bay County website, Zanotti says you will find contact information for the candidates. Voters can approach individual people running for election. She cautions that approach works best in small, local races with few candidates.

When it comes to regional races and statewide issues, you’ll need to employ different methods. For example, in the statewide governor’s race, several Republicans are vying for the opportunity to advance from the Aug. 2 Primary to face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the Nov. 8 General Election. Talking to each one individually might not be feasible.

Fortunately, in this age of social media, internet news, and special interest websites, information abounds. The challenge is finding un-biased, accurate information.

Local experts offer a few tips for deciding where to get your information.

One good first step is to visit your library. At the Bay County Library System, you’ll find computers where you can access online information, says Mark Grotelueschen, Head of Reference Services at the Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library.

Librarians will even help you log on and point you to neutral, reliable websites with quality information.

“As a library, we try to remain non-partisan, impartial, and direct people to information,” Grotelueschen says. “The biggest thing to me is I like to show people that they can actually see what their ballot is going to look like and what’s on it. That helps them to find out what they need to research.”

He suggests people print the sample ballot and bring it with them to review right before entering the polling place.

“It’s a very important point that we do provide internet computers to anyone who wants to come in and use them,” he adds. “We get a lot of people who are new computer users, so we try to direct them to sites that can be trusted.”

For those doing the research at home, Delta College Political Science Professor Lisa Lawrason offers several tips for evaluating the trustworthiness of websites. One key is to locate your favorite news websites on the Media Bias Chart. This shows you whether the organization leans liberal, conservative, or neutral.

When you’re looking at websites, consider these five tips:
 
  1. Check your bias. “I think the first step is recognizing that you have biases. We gravitate toward the things we want to believe,” Lawrason says. What that means is if something contradicts your beliefs, don’t automatically dismiss it as unworthy.
  2. Avoid social media for news. Social media websites are very good at showing you what you want to see. “They are feeding you what’s going to keep you there,” she says. That’s a good way to find like-minded friends, but not a good way to find neutral information.
  3. Access news from multiple sites. “I think it’s important to note that there are credible news organizations that lean both left and right,” Lawrason says. If you’re only looking at news sources on one side of the Media Bias Chart, you’re likely not getting the full story.
  4. Avoid extremely partisan sources. Some websites jump out as troublesome, even without consulting the Media Bias Chart. “You can tell by the kind of language they use,” she says. “If you’re reading a story and there’s inflammatory language geared toward triggering emotions, move to a different source.”
  5. Use the Media Bias Chart. The more sources you access that are near the center and top of the chart, the more likely you are to encounter reliable, accurate information.

For a deeper understanding of the political system, Lawrason recommends taking a political science class. Teens will find options in their high schools, while community colleges such as Delta offer courses for adults.

Recommended websites

If you’re still looking for some help learning about the issues on the ballot, consider these websites recommended by some of our experts.
 
  • Bridge Michigan is a free e-mail newsletter and website. Lawrason says she recommends it to her students. It bills itself as “Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source.” The website includes a link to news about the 2022 Michigan election.
  • Allsides is another site recommended by Lawrason. Allsides covers national news.
  • Michigan Radio includes links to broadcasts as well as written articles. Lawrason recommends the site for Michigan news. There are links to National Public Radio too, if you want national news.
  • Vote 411 is a branch of the League of Women Voters. Zanotti, Lawrason, and Grotelueschen all cited this as a source for neutral information. The League of Women Voters asks candidates to answer a questionnaire and then reports their answers. The flaw on the site is not all candidates complete the questionnaire.
  • The Michigan Voter Information Center offers a wealth of information on the mechanics of voting. Here, you’ll learn polling place hours (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), what to do if an emergency happens on election day and you can’t get to the polling place (request an emergency ballot), and more. Grotelueschen recommends this site for basic information.
  • The Bay County Clerk’s Office offers a link to search Campaign Finance Reports for candidates. Zanotti suggests this site for learning what individuals or organizations contributed to a campaign.