With election season in full swing, my political science classes at Front Range Community College are buzzing. Our discussions often circle back to the same questions: How can we be well-informed voters? And is there a way to sift through the noise and bluster of the campaign to get, as they used to say on Dragnet, “just the facts”? Well, here are some tips.

Thank You, League of Women Voters.

Every two years I give thanks for the League of Women Voters. Since 1920 the League has been helping to educate voters and make us all better citizens. Its Colorado website has a wealth of facts about election logistics, candidates, and ballot issues.

The League has published a brochure on this year’s Colorado ballot measures; my students find it somewhat more user-friendly than the official “Blue Book” that the state mails to all voters. This brochure is available online, or look for a print copy at your local public library.

At the League’s new site, you can enter your address and get a personalized ballot with side-by-side information on all the candidates that you will be voting on.

Check Out Those ‘Facts.’

Confused by the competing claims of the candidates in their commercials, speeches, or debate appearances? Bring on the fact-checkers!

Newspapers and television stations have been doing fact-checking for a long time, running occasional stories assessing statements made by the candidates. But two prominent full-time fact-checking websites have emerged in recent years.

PolitiFact.com was created in 2007 and is operated by a newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. The site has a “Truth-O-Meter” which evaluates statements made by elected officials or candidates.

PolitiFact’s  “Obameter” follows more than 500 promises made by the President in the 2008 campaign, rating them from “kept” to “compromised” to “broken.” (Check it out; the results may surprise you.) Politifact.com has been accused of bias from both left and right, but it won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2009, a pretty good endorsement.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It features articles which point out exaggerations and false statements from candidates of both parties.

Could Lincoln be Elected Today?

And if you find yourself getting way too serious about this whole election thing, check out its sister website, FlackCheck.org.  It has an amusing feature called “Could Lincoln Be Re-elected Today?” which imagines what damage modern attack ads might have done against our greatest President.

Candidate Forums are Close to Home.

Just don’t know enough about some of your local candidates who are “down the ticket,” as we say? Consider attending a candidate forum in your community. Most media attention goes to the presidential and congressional races, but our local elected officials, from state legislators to county commissioners, are involved in close-to-home decisions that can affect us every day. And these officials are very accessible. They are, sometimes literally, our neighbors. They hold town meetings or Saturday morning get-togethers at coffee shops or other venues. They listen to citizens, if we take the time and energy to reach out to them.

On Oct. 9, for example, we had a candidate forum at Front Range with the men and women from Fort Collins running for the Colorado House and Senate. We questioned them on how they would work to keep higher education affordable and accessible in Colorado. Since the Legislature controls the state budget and education funding, these candidates are the relevant folks to ask (and to keep pestering!).

Lots of forums like this have been scheduled in schools, churches, libraries—check out your local newspaper for one close by. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to connect to our democracy at its most basic level.

How are you keeping up on the elections? Please share below.

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