Opinion: It’s important to become an informed voter

Elections have consequences. The idea or casual comment that my vote does not matter is careless and simply not true.

It is a fact that state elections matter and every vote counts. Even worse are the votes that never take place. The common excuse is, “I just do not know enough about it or the candidates.” Becoming an informed voter is the responsibility of every citizen.

It is not difficult to become an informed voter nor does it take a lot of time. Ballotpedia is a nonprofit and nonpartisan online political encyclopedia that covers federal, state and local politics. The League of Women Voters offers answers to candidate questionnaires at Vote411.org. Almost all candidates have active websites that can easily be located that cover their platform and values. Check your local newspapers. They cover candidates throughout the election cycle. In Idaho, voteidaho.gov offers answers to all questions about voting and even offers voter education.

There is caution in just becoming aligned to a party and voting down the party line. The consequences of electing politicians working for their careers or special interests can be long-lasting. In times of very polarizing politics, trusting affiliation can limit the issues that will be addressed once elected officials are elected. Relying only on party affiliation alone can result in situations where you end up with representatives that don’t share your values.

A good example is in 2018. Many voters (65%) who wanted Medicaid expansion also voted straight party line for candidates that publicly opposed their value for affordable health care. If voters had paid attention to candidate policies and chosen someone who truly reflected their desires, we wouldn’t have ended up with legislation designed to reduce the effectiveness of Medicaid expansion.

Watch out for fear-mongering extremists who make up problems that don’t truly exist. Look at the candidates’ values. Are they looking to address pressing issues like affordable housing, education and infrastructure? Or are they trying to stoke a moral panic to maintain their power and influence?

Don’t let the hype of voter fraud dissuade you from voting. The incidents of voter fraud that can be validated with evidence are low across the country. Voter fraud is even lower in the state of Idaho. The hype is designed to make everyone question the process. For some, it is a platform not to accept results, and for others, it is a weapon to convince you that voting makes no difference.

The idea of American voting was to give a voice to all. We are not supposed to be a country where the loudest voices shout down the good of the community. Our representatives are supposed to be beholden to the people, not the privileged few who perpetrate their extremist grift.

Take 15 minutes over the next several days. Get to know the candidates, become an effective voter and let your voice be heard on Nov. 8. The consequences of ineffective voting (or not voting at all) could lead to an Idaho we don’t recognize as our own.

Dan Barker is a leadership consultant and the vice chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.