How do you know who to vote for in local, state, and federal elections?
Elections seldom provide perfect choices between good and evil. The first step toward informed voting lies in determining your own personal preferences as the to public problems you are most concerned with and the solutions you prefer. What solutions to current societal problems do you prefer? Should we be spending more money on schools or for national defense? Would it be better if government limited pornography or hate speech on the Internet, or is one's right to free expression more important? Is abortion a mortal sin or a right some women might choose in desperate situations? There are not "right" answers to these questions on which everyone agrees, so the informed voter looks for candidates who share their preferences on the issues of most importance to them. Above and beyond shared preferences, informed voters look at the personal characteristics of candidates to help determine how they will perform in office. We usually prefer candidates who are hard working, honest, moral and skillful since we are entrusting them with decisions that affect our futures.

Sorting out the information about candidates from their speeches, campaign ads, media coverage and Web sites is one of the real challenges to citizens in a democracy. Many voters use short cut aids, such as relying on a candidate's political party label. Over the years, political parties have taken relatively consistent packages of policy stands. Candidates for more important offices have usually served in previous positions, making it possible to assess their policy preferences and capabilities. A number of nonpartisan Web sites provide useful information for voters. Talking with friends and relatives about politics helps define one's own outlooks and understand the available options.
-- Steve Frantzich, Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy