AUSTIN (KXAN) — Maybe it’s happened to you. It’s election day and you get to the voting machine, confident and prepared to cast your ballot in the big races like governor or mayor — But then you get to the down-ballot races (think school board trustees, county clerks, judicial seats), and suddenly, you’re not so sure who gets your vote.
KXAN recently visited the University of Texas at Austin to learn how we can all be a little better informed when it comes to those smaller races that often have big implications on our daily lives.
“Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to school [board] policies on things like curriculum, library books, books in the classroom,” said James Henson, director of UT’s Texas Politics Project. “These are the kinds of things that school boards have authority over.”
“[County] clerk positions are also really important and increasingly so,” he continued. “They are the heart of the electoral process. These are people who oversee both voter registration at the local level, maintain the voter rolls and then actually organize and operate the elections.”
Henson offered the following suggestions to find info on down-ballot candidates:
- Do a simple internet search for candidate websites, social media pages and articles — just make sure you’re linking to reputable sites.
- Check with civic organizations like the League of Women Voters and other local groups that live for this kind of thing and offer voting guides.
- Ask friends and family. Chances are, you already know somebody who’s plugged into politics and can probably help you out.
For those looking to take their research game to the next level, looking up campaign finance records to see who’s funding these candidates isn’t as hard as you might think.
- For statewide races, the Texas Ethics Commission website has an easy-to-use search feature
- City and county campaign filings will be on city and county websites.
- School board filings are often available on district websites.
- Pro-tip: Make sure you’re searching for a candidate’s legal name, not a nickname (Peter rather than Pete; Elizabeth rather than Liz).
KXAN also chatted with Amber Mills, an advocacy organizer for the nonprofit MOVE Texas. She clued us into something interesting happening on social media: candidates taking to TikTok as a cost-effective way to reach younger voters.
“There is a fine line where it can be corny,” Mills said. “But I think what voters, especially younger voters, are wanting is some sort of relatability, some sort of personality you can’t always get from a campaign website.”
Mills also offered these tips to track down candidates:
- Look for a candidate forum. These tend to see light attendance and can be a good opportunity for you to get some one-on-one time and ask questions.
- Attend a happy hour thrown by a campaign looking to engage with voters in a laid-back setting
- Just reach out to the candidate directly. You might be surprised to see how many answer direct messages and emails.
Early voting for the November elections begins Oct. 24. Election Day is Nov. 8.