I still remember the first time I voted - it was the 2008 primary and I was a political science major religiously following the presidential election. I entered the voting booth exceptionally confident in my choice for president, senator, and congressman. And then I was given a ballot more than five pages long. Confronted with making a choice for state comptroller, recorder of deeds and judicial vacancies, I did what I later learned most Americans do: I guessed.
Across the country, over 30 percent of voters turn out to vote and then fail to fill out their entire ballot. As for the other 70 percent, research has shown that voters resort to choosing based on candidate gender, ethnicity, ballot position – in fact, people who are listed first on the ballot can receive up to a 5 percent bump in votes.
The scary truth is that there over a half-million local elected officials in this country, and presumably most are elected by guesses. What’s more, local officials matter a lot. Most day-to-day policy is decided at the local level by elected officials we hear little or nothing about or may never even know existed.
That’s why I and other students at the University of Chicago, in partnership with our Institute of Politics, founded BallotReady.org, the first online voter guide to local elections. We’re aggregating information about every candidate - their biography, stances on issues, and endorsements - to create a one-stop shop for voter information. We launched in Illinois this February and we’re working on expanding across the country.
As primary season continues, I hope you’ll avoid my mistake and vote with information on candidates for president, comptroller and everyone else in between.