Friday, June 1, 2012

Top Ten Online Resources for the June 5, 2012 California Primary Election

It’s that time of year. The time when millions of California voters begin scratching their heads and wondering about that election right around the corner.

Yes, it’s time to stop procrastinating and pull out your county sample ballot and statewide voter guide. And if you think you may have accidentally recycled them a few weeks back, don’t worry. There is a bounty of great web sites on the Internet to help you get ready to vote and make informed choices.

Of course ours is listed first (editor’s prerogative!) but every one of these sites and resources is wonderful. In the past weeks I have been to all of them several times and am always amazed at what a wealth of great information we have right at our fingertips, 24 hours a day, thanks to the Internet.

So, without any further ado, here are our Top Ten Online Resources for the June 5, 2012 California Primary Election:

1. California Online Voter Guide – now in its 21st edition, the California Voter Foundation’s nonpartisan guide lists all state and federal candidates on California’s ballot, along with their web site addresses and contact information. Propositions, a “Voting FAQ”, and background information about the new Top Two Open Primary process are also featured.

2. SmartVoter – produced by the League of Women Voters of California, this online guide provides comprehensive ballot information for all elections in most California counties, from President down to school board. Simply type in your address and a personalized list of the candidates and contests on your ballot is displayed. Biographical highlights, priorities and endorsements are featured for candidates who supply them.

3. Maplight’s Voter Guide – provided by Maplight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group working to shine a light on money in politics, this guide provides comprehensive information about the two statewide propositions on the ballot, Props. 28 and 29. You’ll find up-to-date lists of top campaign contributors, news articles, editorials, endorsements and campaign ads.

4. Official California Voter Information Guide – produced by the Secretary of State, this guide is mailed out to every registered voter’s household. It provides nonpartisan information on the ballot propositions, such as an independent analysis by the state Legislative Analyst, pro/con arguments from proponents and opponents and texts of the propositions. Can’t locate your printed guide? No worries. An online, expanded version is available.

5. Easy Voter Guide – produced by the League of Women Voters of California, this is a great resource for those who are looking for a short and sweet overview of the propositions. It’s available both in print and online, in multiple languages, and designed to be read at the 8th grade level.

6. County Election Offices Roster – this is the page CVF refers voters to most often. That’s because most of the questions voters have, such as questions about registration, polling place location, ballot information and vote by mail status, can only be answered by their county election office. Fortunately many counties provide online tools that help voters find answers to the most simple questions, such as registration status and polling place location, online 24 hours a day.

7. California Choices – a fantastic, comprehensive and easy-to-use resource to help familiarize voters with the statewide propositions, this site is produced by Next 10 and academic departments at Stanford, UC Berkeley, CSU Sacramento and UC San Diego.  It features a user-friendly table of endorsements and a way for voters to share their opinions on the propositions with their friends through the site.

8. Find Your Polling Place – this directory is maintained by the Secretary of State, and links directly to county tools, where available, that allow voters to use the Internet to locate their polling place.

9. Check Your Vote By Mail Ballot Status – also maintained by the Secretary of State, this directory links to county tools, where available, that allow voters to go online and check if their vote-by-mail ballot has been sent, a voted ballot has been received, and in some cases whether it was counted. A recent CVF survey found that 44 of California’s 58 counties currently allow voters to check their vote-by-mail ballot status online.

10. Check Your Voter Registration Status – CVF’s Directory of County Election Offices features links to counties that offer an online tool that allows voters to verify if they are registered to vote at their current address. These lookup tools will be an enormous convenience for voters who have moved recently and are not sure if they registered at their new address or not. Although you must reregister every time you move, if you move within the same county you can reregister at your new polling place and cast a provisional ballot.

Kim Alexander is president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to improve the voting process to better serve voters. This essay is available for republication upon request.