How to wisely prepare to exercise your right to vote

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The polling station at Columbia College on Election Day, March 20. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t the only one who’s opted not to run again. In less than two months, Illinoisans will elect a new attorney general for the first time in 16 years as Lisa Madigan eyes the exit. We might have a new governor and we’ll be voting on three other statewide offices. We’ll certainly have scores of new or relatively new state lawmakers as many incumbents have called it quits in the aftermath of the two-year state budget impasse.


The election in November and the Chicago election in February will be pivotal. It’s incumbent on all of us as citizens to start preparing to vote, and that job never is easy.

Not sure who’s running for what and what questions will be on your ballot? Many county clerk websites, the site, and the League of Women Voters of Illinois site coming in October,, soon will include features that will allow you to plug in your address and get an early look at exactly what is on your ballot.

Candidate’s campaign ads frequently stretch the truth or mislead, and there often are ads paid for by dark-money groups not coordinated with campaigns. For those reasons, it’s best not to ever rely on them to make up your mind. If you do tune them in, please be sure to swallow a full heaping of skepticism along with them.

Where can you turn for reliable information? Here are some tools and thoughts to consider as you take on the task of making sure you cast the best-informed votes you can.

Make plans to check out some of the televised debates that will be held for top races over the next few months.

You need more than sound bites. You need facts. You need to know what’s true and what’s not. PolitiFact Illinois, reported and produced by the Better Government Association’s investigative journalism unit with accompanying videos by the Chicago Sun-Times, is a terrific resource that provides the context and full perspective missing from a campaign sound bite. The Politifact process provides transparency. All sources consulted or interviewed in evaluating a politician’s statement are listed right there with the story assessing and rating a politician’s statement.

Find and read as many questionnaires as you can from independent, nonpartisan organizations. Many newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, ask candidates to answer questions and publish the responses just as the campaigns wrote them. The BGA also does this and focuses its questions on government transparency, accountability and efficiency. Answers are coming soon to the site recently launched by the BGA. That site also will allow you to ask a question about the elections. The answer will be researched for you and provided for everyone to see.

Candidate questionnaires from nonpartisan media or organizations can be especially useful reading for those down-ballot races that won’t have other big coverage opportunities or ad budgets.

Some news organizations like WTTW will give candidates a minute or two of free air time to pitch you for your vote. Others record editorial board endorsement sessions and post them on their websites.

Use bar association websites for judicial ratings, and check out nonpartisan Injustice Watch for more coverage and context.

What should you be thinking about as you weigh your valuable vote? Dismiss the horse race and polls. Please, dismiss the horse race and the polls. You should vote for someone based on what you think they believe in and on what they intend to do for you and to you, not because they might have been winning a popularity contest on a certain day in the past. Polls are snapshots in time and some are more reliable than others.

View ads and everything candidates and campaigns say with skepticism. Challenge your own biases and political leanings as you think about what a candidate is saying. Read newspaper endorsements even if you disagree with the editorial board’s political leanings. You still might learn something and challenge your own thinking.

Know the source of things you see on social media and make sure they’re credible and accurate. If you’re unsure whether something you see is coming from a factual, independent source, please resist the urge to share it.

Know more than a simple summary of a candidate’s stand on an issue. What are the details? What are the long-term effects? What’s the history and context of a particular topic of concern to you? What’s the campaign’s motivation? What’s the missing context? How could a number or claim be skewed? What’s missing? What isn’t being said?

Prepare. Plan. Evaluate. You wouldn’t buy a home or rent an apartment without checking it out as well as the block, the neighborhood, the schools, the nearby stores and amenities. You shouldn’t expect to do less when it comes to investing your valuable vote in a candidate who will make decisions that absolutely will affect the quality of your life.

Think critically. Think critically some more.

Madeleine Doubek is the Better Government Association’s vice president of policy.

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