Voter pitfall to avoid: Voting for the candidates on faith when you can have information. Pay attention to past scandals or unethical behavior. Be aware that being a well-known “voice” in a community doesn’t guarantee that person will be effective if elected. Appearance and popularity don’t serve the people well — principled, intentional and productive officials do.
When a candidate has never held public office, voters have to take some of their promises on faith. But when a candidate has held public office before or is currently serving, there are a wealth of publicly available documents you can use to find out how much that candidate has achieved and how they interact with other officials.
What legislation or public policies have they introduced or helped to get passed?
Information about every bill U.S. Congress members have sponsored or co-sponsored is available on their profiles.
You can look up bills in the Michigan Legislature by their sponsor. You can also look up your representatives’ profiles on their official House of Representatives or Senate website. These often provide more information about bills they’ve sponsored or supported.
What’s their voting record?
U.S House of Representatives’ recent votes can be found on the member profiles page of the Clerk of the U.S. Roll Call Votes for both chambers of Congress are tallied and posted online by bill number within one hour following the vote.
You can find out how state legislators voted on a particular bill if you have the bill number.
Does your public official seem effective in their current role?
Nearly all business conducted by state and city governments must be done in meetings that are open to the public, per the Open Meetings Act. Michigan Municipal League provides a summary of the act’s requirements.
Watching or attending public meetings allows you to see first-hand how elected officials are voting. Attending public meetings is a great way to see your elected officials in action and help you decide whether they are effective in their roles.
For judges, you might be able to watch courtroom videos to see how they treat defendants and plaintiffs. The 3rd Judicial Court and 36th District Court, both based in Detroit, let you watch live and recorded court cases.
To determine whether an elected official is effective, it’s important to consider what they’re trying to do and whether it accurately represents the community. Another consideration is whether they’re adequately representing all of their constituents. It’s important that elected officials make decisions that are inclusive of residents who come from diverse backgrounds and unique experiences.
Does your public official handle themselves as a professional?
During meetings, public officials follow rules to maintain “decorum,” or propriety. Professionalism in government indicates a level of competence required for a government to effectively serve its citizens. Lack of professionalism can make establishing good governance even more of a challenge than it already is.
Public officials often face conflicts, opposition and criticism. Name-calling and unprofessional language in response only adds fuel to the fire. It also takes away from the reason they are there — to best serve your needs. There are many ways to respond to conflict while holding public office or running for election. Ask yourself if their response makes sense and is rational.
Read the rest of the Detroit Documenters Voters Guide and look up any unfamiliar terms in our vote with confidence glossary. Still have questions about voting in Detroit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.