The bottom of the ballot / Gorilla Romero for Adjutant General
November 5, 2006 12:20 PM   Subscribe

How should I vote at the bottom of the ballot?

Despite my best efforts to research every candidate and enter the voting booth fully prepared, at the bottom of the ballot there are always a handful of people I’ve never heard of running for offices like Probate Judge and Soil & Water District Commissioner. Lots of these people are running unopposed, and for judicial offices especially, the choice is not between candidates but whether to retain a particular candidate.

I’m not convinced I and my fellow citizens need to be electing a County Assessor. How should I handle voting for these minor offices, and why?

a. Leave them blank, since I’m uninformed about the candidates and their offices.
b. Write in random names.*
c. Vote with the party whose values most closely resemble my own.
d. Vote to retain incumbents on the theory that they have gained specialized experience (and if I haven’t heard of them, they at least haven’t created any major scandals.)
e. ??

* My partner and I are writing in Chowder Julius for South Carolina Attorney General, as the odious Henry McMaster is running unopposed. I urge all South Carolinians to do the same.

I usually go with a, but I’d like to hear what arguments there are for the other options.
posted by climalene to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I try to avoid voting for races when I don't think I'm fully informed enough. For a national or statewide race that I feel I don't have enough information about I sometimes vote the party I most closely align with. However, for local elections I don't vote unless I'm sure I want that person doing the job. Sure, a small town judge or some odd commissioner won't have a lot of power, but they are the people you'll have to deal with on a regular basis.
posted by Science! at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2006

Your local newspaper usually has a full slate of endorsed candidates. Find a paper you agree with.
posted by frogan at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2006

Uh... Yes, there levels of being fully informed, apparently. I strive to always be fully informed enough.
posted by Science! at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2006

Next year, get an absentee ballot. You can sit at home, in front of your computer, and take 2 or 3 minutes to look up all those people who you don't recognize. It's really nice.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far. Just to clarify: I do tons of research before voting -- it's not a problem of effort but of lack of information. As far as I can tell, my paper doesn't endorse at the level of Soil & Water Districts, and the state media aren't paying much attention to the county-level races. Many of the super-low-tier candidates don't have websites. Some don't have party affiliations. I have a full crib sheet with as much of the ballot as I can figure out, but there are candidates I can't find any information on, and there always seem to be surprises. So given those conditions, what do you do, and why?
posted by climalene at 1:22 PM on November 5, 2006

Make that 3 votes for Chowder Julius now.
posted by chiababe at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2006

Best answer: In that situation, I would vote for the incumbent. If he was doing a bad job and it affected you, you would know about it. So that means he must be doing good enough. At worst, he's got a year or two of experience in the job that the competitors doesn't.
posted by smackfu at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2006

Best answer: Vote your party. That's pretty much the point of party affiliation: even if you have never heard of the candidate, you can rest assured that he or she will hew somewhat close to a core set of principles with which you agree, or at least can live with. offer not valid in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Leaving the ballot blank is a bad idea, because even the mental exercise of thinking this issue through puts you ahead of 95% of the electorate.

Use the downballot to experiment with third party votes where possible. Here in Massachusetts, I am voting Green for secretary of state, and possibly treasurer as well. There are no GOP candidates in these races, so this is a good opportunity to help the Greens become a viable third party and to promote some of their ideas regarding clean elections and ballot access.

Don't be afraid to punish a candidate who has a nonexistent or crappy website. It costs next to nothing to host a website, and these days it's far and away the best way of reaching any size electorate. If someone doesn't have a website or it looks like they hired a sixth grader to create it, I assume that they are not taking their own candidacy seriously.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 2:39 PM on November 5, 2006

Around here, the League of Women Voters puts out a fairly detailed analysis of all the local elections, including questions for the candidates and reasons both for and against various referendums and constitutional amendments.

The local Bar Association might also have something on judges.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2006

Time is short now, but you could call or go to the offices of incumbents Monday and try and talk to the ones you think are most important. For future elections you could do the same a month or two before the election. Call challengers at home or at work and talk with them, they want a public office so they should make time for citizens (to a reasonable degree).

I'm new to a fair size city, pop >70K and I just found out my barber is the mayor! I wondered why he knew so much about road repairs, and why he was so interested in how I liked the town. Then I saw him on public access leading the city council meeting. Ha! He's a good barber too.
posted by Science! at 2:52 PM on November 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check out your local bar association website and/or the front section of your local newspaper on election day. Both will have researched and endorsed a slate of candidates. You can bring the listings into the booth with you. PLEASE DO NOT VOTE FOR INCUMBENT JUDGES JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVEN'T HEARD ANYTHING BAD. Just because you haven't heard anything doesn't mean they know their job or the law.

If you are going to vote, take it seriously enough and at least find an organization that evaluates and researches the judges for you. Vote party lines if you want, that's none of my business, but you shouldn't just vote incumbents assuming that they're doing ok.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:10 PM on November 5, 2006

Next year, get an absentee ballot. You can sit at home, in front of your computer, and take 2 or 3 minutes to look up all those people who you don't recognize. It's really nice.

Absentee voting is really convenient (I may never vote another way again, especially if electronic voting machines invade the country), but you can also look up the candidates weeks in advance when the sample ballot arrives in the mail.
posted by phatkitten at 3:28 PM on November 5, 2006

Best answer: I just vote green on all ballots where I don't have an opinion, to add to their numbers and encourage a system with more than 2 parties.

posted by hermitosis at 4:06 PM on November 5, 2006

Best answer: In many areas, the League of Women Voters prints a voter's guide with Q&A from all the candidates who bother to respond, which is most of the serious candidates. Unfortunately, the Columbia League doesn't seem to publish one. But they might have some advice.

Frankly, I would vote by party affiliation and leave the ballot blank when it is a choice between two parties I dislike.
posted by grouse at 5:14 PM on November 5, 2006

Response by poster: Yes, chiababe!

I marked as best answer all those that addressed my question. Looks like there’s no consensus...interesting. Thanks.

I knew South Carolina was a little over the top with wanting to elect every accountant and dogcatcher in state government, but most of you really never see offices on the ballot for which the candidates have no websites, no endorsements, and no mention in the media or any of the major voters' guides (Project VoteSmart, LWV, etc.)? That's pretty standard here. And I can only dream of Green Party candidates for anything but a few of the top offices.
posted by climalene at 7:55 PM on November 5, 2006

I managed to find information more even the smallest races on the internet. Google blog search was helpful too. I would frequently find someone who was passionate about a candidate.

It's my hope that with each successive election there will be more and more citzen reporting on these local candidates. Everyone is passionate about some aspect of local life, and someday everyone will have a blog (maybe). So it could happen.

Perhaps as early as four years from now a simple web search for each candidate's name will give you all of the information you need to know to make an informed decision.
posted by GregX3 at 8:02 PM on November 5, 2006

I just vote green on all ballots where I don't have an opinion, to add to their numbers and encourage a system with more than 2 parties.

I do the same thing. I think it is an utterly worthwhile, justifiable thing to do.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:44 PM on November 5, 2006

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