Your guide to becoming an informed voter

Voting can be intimidating.

Polling stations change. Mail-in ballots require documents. Complex ballot proposals lead to confusion and questions. Some candidates spend more time overshadowing their opponents than promoting their own ideas.

Yet most people agree that voting is a fundamental part of any democracy. Read a little further to find resources — local, state and national — that exist to help you prepare to vote in the August 2 primary election and November 8 general election.

How to find out what’s on the ballot

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

Many municipalities maintain election information on websites. The Bay County Clerk, for example, includes election dates, links to sample ballots, candidate lists, past election results, and more. county website. The Town 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.

Other important information you will find on government websites are details on how to request a mail-in ballot or find your voting location.

If you can’t find this information on your hometown website, try the Michigan State Voter Information Center. Here you can enter 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 enter, an election worker will ask for your ID. If you have ID, bring it. If you don’t have one, you can still vote. The state’s website explains the process.

How to know the candidates and the proposals

On government sites, you might find a list of candidates and voting proposals, but not much more. Few municipal websites tell you about the backgrounds or promises of political candidates. The voting proposals are detailed, but it is unclear how the measures affect different groups.

On the Bay County website, Zanotti says you can find candidate contact information. Voters can approach people who are running for office. She cautions that this approach works best in small, local races with few applicants.

When it comes to regional races and statewide issues, you’ll need to use different methods. For example, in the statewide gubernatorial race, several Republicans are vying to advance from the Aug. 2 primary to face Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the Nov. 8 general election. Talking to each individually might not be possible.

Fortunately, in the age of social media, internet news and special interest websites, information abounds. The challenge is to find unbiased and accurate information.

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

A good first step is to visit your library. At Bay County Library Systemyou’ll find computers where you can access information online, says Mark Grotelueschen, reference services manager at the Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library.

The librarians will even help you get connected and direct you to neutral and reliable websites with quality information.

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

He suggests people print out the sample ballot and bring it with them to review just before entering the polling station.

“It’s a very important point that we provide connected computers to everyone 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 reliable sites.”

For those doing research at home, Delta College Political science professor Lisa Lawrason offers several tips for assessing the trustworthiness of websites. One of the keys is to locate your favorite news websites on the Table of media biases. This shows you if the organization leans liberal, conservative or neutral.

When browsing websites, consider these five tips:

  1. Check your bias. “I think the first step is to recognize that you have biases. We gravitate towards the things we want to believe in,” Lawrason says. This means that if something contradicts your beliefs, don’t automatically dismiss it as unworthy.
  2. Avoid social media for news. Social media websites are great at showing you what you want to see. “They feed you what’s going to keep you there,” she said. It’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 outlets that lean both left and right,” Lawrason says. If you only look at the news sources on one side of the media bias chart, you probably won’t get the whole story.
  4. Avoid extremely partisan sources. Some websites show up as annoying even without checking the Media Bias Chart. “You can tell by the type of language they use,” she says. “If you read a story and there is inflammatory language intended to trigger emotions, move on to another source.”
  5. Use the media bias chart. The closer to the center and top of the chart you access sources, the more likely you are to find reliable and accurate information.

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

Recommended websites

If you’re still looking for help learning more about ballot issues, check out these websites recommended by some of our experts.

  • Michigan Bridge is a free e-newsletter and website. Lawrason says she recommends it to her students. It bills itself as “Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit source of information.” The website includes a link to news about the 2022 Michigan election.
  • From all sides is another site recommended by Lawrason. Allsides covers national news.
  • Radio Michigan includes links to shows as well as written articles. Lawrason recommends the site for Michigan news. There are also links to National Public Radio, 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 neutral source of information. The League of Women Voters asks candidates to answer a questionnaire and then reports their answers. The flaw of the site is that not all applicants complete the questionnaire.
  • The Michigan Voter Information Center offers a wealth of information on the mechanics of voting. Here you will learn the hours of operation of the polling station (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), what to do if an emergency arises on election day and you cannot get to the polling station (request an emergency ballot), and more. Grotelueschen recommends this site for basic information.
  • The Bay County Clerk’s Office provides a link to search Campaign finance reports for candidates. Zanotti suggests this site to find out which people or organizations have contributed to a campaign.

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