Published on November 6, 2012

The US presidential candidate ballot…and 174 extra questions.

By Kaitlyn Pisaruk

Team Coordinator / Project Officer

Have US voters received enough information on what is going to be on the ballot? Kaitlyn Pisaruk’s take on the ‘174 extra questions.’

Registering – my experience

As a first time voter requesting an absentee ballot, I was not sure how to begin. Typing into Google ‘voting overseas as a resident of Colorado’ – the first link displayed led me to a form where I entered basic information, along with my SSN to verify my identity. That was it, easy enough (I was lucky to register on time). Within a week I received a Colorado state ballot in the post. That was 1 month ago, and I have yet to fill it in.

With the best intentions of voting in an informed way, I watched the three televised presidential debates and kept up to date on news articles, press releases, and policy opinions.

However, when I opened my ballot, there were 16 presidential candidates to choose from and an additional 23 questions relating to Congress, the Senate, and amendments to the constitutions for Colorado. I knew there would be additional questions besides the presidential candidate, but I had no idea there would be that many. Apparently, compared to other states, Colorado has significantly more presidential options. How could I choose who and what to vote for if everything I had been reading and hearing was focused on President Obama and Governor Romney?

I want to make an informed decision in the US election. But the magnitude and complexity of my ballot is discouraging. Colorado is not the only state. According to the BBC, there are an extra 174 questions state-wide incorporated into the presidential ballot ranging from death penalty, to casinos, and fluoride in water supplies.

Understanding the ballot

In a search to understand what my vote was actually contributing to, I went to various websites, and in the end came to: http://onyourballot.vote411.org/. By entering the postcode of my previous town and confirming the county it resides, I was presented with an interactive platform which listed 9 out of the 23 questions from my ballot and the candidates running. This was extremely helpful in providing information on each debate and the implications of my vote.

For the rest of the 14 questions, I had to Google candidates names, read a couple of sentences on their views, and then decide. This process took the better part of two hours.

In my position at Involve, I am around experts in participation processes and engagement of citizens. I can’t help but wonder – is this effective participation?

I am a citizen that wants to engage – I want to believe my vote counts, and I want to know what I am voting for. This was my motivation in achieving a basic understanding of candidates. What is the motivation behind registered voters who don’t have access to information on every question? How are Colorado voters meant to understand the impact and importance of every question on the ballot?

It seems that I am not the only one who is frustrated. The Denver Channel reports on how over 2,000 early voter ballots have been spoiled as citizens are voting for more than one president. These voters might not be discouraged by the same reason I am, but it would be interesting to find out.

I wanted to ‘participate’ and I did – through hours of preparation and research. I sifted through information because I wanted to understand. Despite the fact this election campaign has cost $2.4 billion dollars – have voters received all of the information? Not information on the presidential candidates…but the other 174 questions.

4 Responses to “The US presidential candidate ballot…and 174 extra questions.”

  1. Janice Thomson
    November 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Good point! This issue of having to google for voting information is even more problematic once you consider that Google algorithm’s send people who ask the same question to completely different websites, based on their search histories. See Eli Paiser’s TED talk on “filter bubbles”:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

    • Kaitlyn Pisaruk
      November 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Hi Janice, Thank you for your comment! Yes – good point. The link you posted looks really interesting, I will have a look.

  2. Carolina Johnson
    November 15, 2012 at 12:38 am

    As as US voter who lived overseas for years, I empathize with the shock of receiving a huge ballot and being faced with the daunting challenge of learning what’s on it! This is exacerbated even for resident voters in states like Washington (where I now live) where all voting is postal and the state decided to cut funding for voters guides to be sent to voters for all elections. There’s a really interesting project that’s emerged from innovative work at the University of Washington trying to help citizens work together online to overcome the information challenge, the Living Voter’s Guide: https://wash.livingvotersguide.org/. The project is expanding to California at the moment and maybe elsewhere. Take a look – it’s an interesting model!

    • Kaitlyn Pisaruk
      November 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Carolina, That looks like a really interesting website! Thank you for forwarding it along. I hope it keeps expanding because it seems quite comprehensive and easy to use.

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