—– By: Ann Costantino —–
With midterm elections just a few weeks away, candidates are down to the wire, campaigning hard to gain our attention — and our votes! Yet, unless you are a party-line voter, some of you may still be on the fence, wondering who the best candidate is for his/her elected position.
But how are we supposed to know who the right person is for each job? How can we make an informed decision? Are we supposed to listen to the media and its endorsements? Our friends? Ourselves?
The Baltimore Post has made a very deliberate decision not to endorse candidates because we feel that an educated public – able to discern for itself – is far more valuable than any fleeting election cycle.
Instead, we encourage voters to learn all that they can — both for themselves and by themselves. While we do what we can to bring issues to light, in other words, we don’t want you to take our word for it! Go out and find out for yourself!
Here are three ways you can prepare yourself as you make your decision for next month’s midterm election:
1. Follow the money:
There is no secret code to learning how to investigate campaign contributions. The media does not have a leg-up on how to research the information.
Find your state’s campaign contribution website or where your state stores information you can request.
In Maryland, the contributions can be found on the State Board of Elections Campaign Finance website. Candidates’ expenditures can be found here. General Maryland election information can be found here.
Once in the contribution portal, one can choose a variety of ways to conduct a search. We recommend looking into all of the ways. Be sure to search one category at a time and clear the boxes between each search, otherwise your search will be narrowed by multiple search parameters. And don’t forget to search Super PACs and campaign slates. Simply insert names for the PACs and slates in the receiver box and follow the money to its sources.
Be sure also to download the results into a PDF or Excel file. From there, you can easily search names and addresses, using a “ctrl find” function.
2. Be a good observer:
While there are a multitude of other ways to discern if a candidate is who he or she claims to be, such as a voting record lining up with positions expressed while on the campaign trail, there are a few simple observations you can make as a voter which won’t have you tangled in the weeds until election day.
BEHAVIOR AND RESPONSIVENESS:
At no time have candidates been more approachable since the dawn of social media. Besides an ability to see a candidate’s Sunday picnic spread and cute family photos, followers can get a sense of who the candidate is. Is he reactive and sensitive to attack? Does he block you or delete your (respectful) critical comments or poignant questions? Is he actually engaging with you or is it through a campaign manager?
And what about how he characterizes his opponents? Ask yourself: is what he (or she) saying even accurate?
We recommend using Socrates’ Triple Filter Test to see: Is it true, is it kind is it helpful?
But, importantly, is the criticism baseless? If it is, what is it about the candidate that has him (or her) resorting to such attack tactics?
Sometimes candidates will tie his or her opponent to a heated national issue that will have no bearing, whatsoever, on any control either candidate will have over the issue, once elected.
If national border control is your issue, for instance, the question needs to be asked: does a county council member or state delegate have any control over what happens on our country’s borders?
Asking the candidate to stick to realistic issues may be a good start in discerning where he or she stands on the issues that will affect you personally, in the communities in which you reside.
ARE THE RULES BEING FOLLOWED?:
Is the candidate violating any election laws? Sometimes an election violation can be as simple as accepting over-contributions from individual candidates. In Maryland, that limit is $6,000 per person or company over the four-year election cycle. However, if the candidate receives an over-contribution, it is incumbent upon the contributor to resolve the issue or be fined.
However, other violations can be more serious and are directly tied to the candidates, themselves. For instance, if a candidate lives outside the district in which he or she is campaigning to represent, such as renting an unoccupied house while owning and living in a home in another, that, my friends, is a big no-no!
And, if you care to go down that rabbit hole during your research, that information is also not some big media secret, either. While it can take some practice to learn how to search the site, anyone can look for home ownership information. In Maryland, that can be found on the Department of Assessment & Taxation website.
Another handy site to check out, available also in many other states, is the Maryland Business Express Business Entity Search site. In this case, we recommend searching, using as few words as possible.
Sometimes finding companies can also be tricky, especially when a company uses acronyms as registered names, but uses full names in public or on campaign contribution sites (or vice versa). We don’t know about you, but we love a good challenge!
A note: It would also be good to familiarize yourself with the definition of a registered or “resident agent” of a company. While there are sometimes ways to tie an agent to a particular company, technically speaking, that agent’s job is basically to receive mail for the company. In other words, that individual may be unrelated to the actual company, itself. This is important to understand if you are using this information to augment campaign contribution research. Be sure to back up your research with a variety of sources.
3. Register and then vote!
Now that you are armed with the information you need to make your decision, you will need to put that decision somewhere. If you are not registered, then you will be out of luck come election day. In Maryland, the registration deadline is October 16. You can register to vote here. To find your polling location, go here.
***The writer of this article encourages respectful discourse concerning all candidates and elected officials***