August 22, 2016

6 Ways to Become an Informed Voter

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The party conventions are over, members of Congress are campaigning back in their districts, and the 2016 election is about to enter its final stretch. With election day just 77 days away, I bet some of us wish it came much sooner! But I am a political junky. I eat all of this stuff up, from the day-to-day spats, polls and controversies, to in-depth policy discussions and debates. Turns out this election cycle has a lot of junkies; according to Gallup, 69% of Americans are following this election closely

The freedom to vote is a fundamental political right. Elections and voting matter. The American Jewish community has always been civically involved. In the 2012 U.S. election, Jewish voter registration rates topped roughly 90%, compared to 74% in the general public. Our community also has unique power based on where we live. While the American Jewish population only makes up 2% of the general public, 70% of Jews live in the crucial states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, which hold more than half of the electoral college votes needed to win the presidential election.

It is from this tradition that I came to work at MAZON. As the Program Director for MAZON’s Grants Department, I spend my days working with champion anti-hunger advocates from over 170 organizations in 45 states and the District of Columbia. MAZON’s grantee partners are engaged in hard fights to ensure that there are meaningful and comprehensive government programs that respond to hunger. Together with our grantee partners, synagogues and supporters, MAZON is a force for change in ending hunger in the United States. Being a force for change requires a strong understanding of our government, its programs and its practices.

Participating in government through an election requires a similar understanding of electoral practices: How do I register to vote? Where is my polling location? Who are the candidates? What do they think about food insecurity, the economy, foreign policy, social issues and more? How do I find out what my candidate and elected official thinks about current pieces of legislation? Who is contributing to my candidate’s campaigns?

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger believes deeply in civic and political engagement in our communities around the country. Here are some helpful tips to make it easier to be an educated and informed voter.

Where do I register to vote? What are my rights? 

To register or check your status visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website. There you will find links to your state’s online and paper voter registration, polling locations and election day information. You can also check out Rock the Vote, an easy-to-use voter registration and education tool. 

For an easy list of your voting rights, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has put together this easy to use 14 Point Voter Fact Sheet.

Where can I find out what my candidate thinks on the issues?

A slew of advocacy organizations provide useful tools to research your candidate’s views. 

  • Vote Smart: An expansive non-partisan information source for everything from how and where to vote, candidate voting records, speeches, funding sources and more.
  • League of Conservation Voters: One of the country’s leading environmental advocacy organizations. Take a look at their Congressional score card.
  • US Chamber of Commerce: The chamber puts together a voting scorecard for Members of Congress on all business-related legislation.
  • AFL-CIO: Comprehensive voter scorecard for the current Congress with regards to labor and unions.
  • Food Research Action Council (FRAC): A longtime MAZON grantee partner, FRAC has a great guide to what all candidates should know about food security in the US.
  • You can also consult your local newspaper for their endorsements and check your candidate’s campaign or office websites - Senate or House of Representatives

I care about money in politics; where do I go to see who is supporting my candidate?

  • Federal Election Commission: This is an easy database for all federal election contributions of over $250 from individuals, political action committees or campaign committees to individual candidates.
  • Open Secrets: A project of the Center for Responsive Politics, this is an expansive, non-partisan source for election funding information.

What is my candidate’s voting history, past and present?

Thomas.gov provides a completely transparent view of the legislative process in the United States Congress. Use this tool to take a deeper dive into how your candidates voted during the 114th Congress. 

For example, take a look at the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) in the House of Representatives, and its Senate counterpart, The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016. This legislation influences funding for many of the most important child nutrition programs, such as regulating school meals and summer food programs. 

How can your vote help the anti-hunger movement?

A politician’s record and commitment to ending hunger is a strong indicator of their political will to support vulnerable communities and maintain a strong government safety net. MAZON and our partner organizations can be a wonderful resource to learn more about this important issue.

MAZON produces resources on the myths of food insecurity, the facts and figures, and stories of people who live with food insecurity every day. MAZON’s grantee partners are working in 45 states and D.C.; check and see who’s in your area! 

Other resources in the anti-hunger movement include:

  • Vote to End Hunger: A collaborative project to educate the voting public about the realities of food insecurity and the role of the US government to stop it.
  • Food Policy Action: Is your legislator a champion of nutrition policy? Find out here.

Onward to November 8!

Are you inspired? Are you pumped up? Are you ready to go? Do you feel like you have the tools to be an educated and impassioned voter? I hope so.

Join MAZON and our anti-hunger movement colleagues – vote in November and visit MAZON.org to take action and be a part of the movement to end food insecurity in the US.