11 Best Practices for the 2020 Election Season

Hey. Let’s have a chat.

The upcoming election in November is the most important one of our lifetime, and I want to put some information and reminders out there in hopes that we stay focused and don’t allow everything to go off the rails. This combination of the internet, the 24-hour news cycle, our current president, the deep, multi-category divisions running through the country, and the pandemic (just to name a few) is a huge dumpster fire that we need to PUT OUT rather than douse with more lighter fluid. Here are some thoughts to get us all through this without causing more damage:

1) Use extreme caution AND educate yourself before sharing articles on social media. We are an instant feedback kind of society. We’re also usually in a hurry to move onto the next thing. The problem is that a viral article can do extreme damage in a very short amount of time. Before you share an article, above all make sure that you have actually read it. Often click-bait headlines don’t represent what is on the other side of the click. Check the date to make sure you’re not sharing old news. VERIFY the information in the article to make sure you aren’t sharing fake news by using PolitiFact or in some cases FactCheck.org, or Snopes. You can do further Google searches for more information if you can’t find what you need. If you don’t want to take the time to make sure what you’re sharing is real and true, you are part of the problem and should stick to sharing animal videos and non-political memes.

2) Don’t be gullible. Somewhat related to what I just wrote above, we also have to watch out for bots (read about them here) and deepfakes (read about them here), which were born of new technology, as well as quotes or video clips that have been shortened and shared out of context, which have been a problem forever. Either way, they are used to pull the wool over people’s eyes and make them believe something that isn’t true. The procedure for verifying all of these is the same: visit those fact-check sites listed above and do extra searches for more information if necessary. (For shortened video clips of interviews or press conferences, honestly it could not be easier to find links to more complete videos on Google, YouTube, or news websites.)

3) Get out of your echo chamber. If you watch the same news channel or read the same news sites religiously and if you only interact with people who think like you, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone to make sure that you know what’s really happening. We live in a world full of confirmation bias (the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports one’s prior personal beliefs or values) and that, believe it or not, does not move us forward. Do the work and make your own decisions based on solid, factual information; it can only help you.

4) Don’t be distracted. A 24-hour news cycle means that things seem to happen very quickly, the media is always looking for stories, and attention-grabbing leaders know that it doesn’t take much to change the subject. Our current POTUS is terrible at a lot of things, but he’s a card-carrying expert at making the American public drop a problematic news story about his latest offense like a hot potato, as long as he substitutes it with something else. He’s also good at distracting us with one thing while sneaking something else in that he knows won’t be popular, very much under the radar. This type of deception usually happens late on Fridays or right before a holiday, by the way. Yes, he stokes the fire. Yes, sadly, we let him get away with it. Our bad. Let’s stop that. During this election season it’s important that we recognize when a distraction is being thrown down, and stay the course. (Lightening up on news and social media intake helps with this, too. Don’t be afraid to try that; we can remain informed even while not ingesting information at every waking moment, I promise.)

5) Minimize the amount of attention you pay to polls and political ads. Polls can definitely be a good way to measure what people are thinking. What’s important to remember is that those who share polls (people, websites, news outlets) will typically choose ones whose outcomes are favorable to them and their beliefs. Poll results can also make people feel like their vote isn’t needed if so-and-so is way ahead anyway, just like in the 2016 Presidential Election. Polls cause complacency; do not make your decisions based on them. Political ads are often full of lies. They are usually not an accurate measure of a candidate, whether it’s a positive ad about the candidate whose campaign has produced it (containing lies or inflated truths) or it’s a negative ad about an opposing candidate (containing lies or out-of-context claims). Always do your research.

6) Spend some time educating yourself on candidates who will appear all the way down the ticket. The presidential election is the most prominent race this November, but there will be lots of other decisions to make depending on where you live. Take some time—even thirty minutes!—ahead of Election Day to visit campaign websites and news sites to learn about the downticket candidates so you can feel good about choosing the people who have the best qualifications in your opinion rather than simply voting for people whose names you recognize from yard signs. Note that in some areas, the political affiliation of some downticket candidates isn’t even stated on the ballot. Learning all about them before you vote is your responsibility and part of your civic duty. Often local news sites will run a candidate comparison, so all you have to do is read it, but please take the time to look for information on your own. Helpful hint: To discover who is actually running for office, check out Ballotpedia, a neutral site where you can find a sample ballot for your area.

7) Everyone who is of voting age should be exercising their civil right to do so. That means if you have children who are 18 or older, you should ask them to make sure they register to vote, and if they seem uninterested or dismissive, it’s time to have a talk with them. Fortunately these days it looks like the youth of America is more plugged in and active than ever before; I hope we see evidence of that in November.

8) Check your voter registration status. I do this ahead of every single election these days. There has been so much voter suppression, gerrymandering, and generally suspicious discussion surrounding our elections over the past couple of years that it’s smart to do this simple check regularly. Head over to Vote.org to take care of that right now, while you’re thinking about it.

9) Make sure you know ahead of time what voting methods your state allows. Especially with the pandemic going on, it’s important to know whether you have to show up in person on Election Day to cast your ballot or if you have other options, like Early Voting, Absentee, or Mail-in voting. Head back over to Ballotpedia to learn about voting policy in your state.

10) Vote. Duh, right? I can’t imagine you’d read this far without already having the intention to vote. I will expand the obvious (and I already hinted at my leanings above so this should come as no surprise if you’re new here) by saying that in the 2020 Presidential Election, there is literally ONLY ONE viable candidate if you are looking for someone who is interested in bringing our country together, working towards equality for all people, listening to his team and listening to scientists and other experts while making decisions that impact our future. There is ONLY ONE viable candidate who has an open mind and is willing to change based on new information (“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou), who has good intentions, who will readily admit when he makes a mistake and then will apologize for it, who will not constantly lie to the public, and who will not bully others (among lots of other misdeeds, catalogued in all seriousness, with verification, for your convenience at ‘McSweeney’s Internet Tendency,” here). There is ONLY ONE viable candidate who had a front row seat, watching how the job works for eight years, and can step in on Day One and immediately start restoring the United States as a superpower, reassuring our allies that we want to work with them, and starting to eliminate the embarrassment and worry that many Americans have had since 2016, regarding our current leadership. There is ONLY ONE viable candidate who will be able to make any of the current Supreme Court Justices feel good about retiring if that’s what they want to do, because he will get behind replacements who won’t take us back to a 1920’s state of empowerment for those who are straight, white, Christian men and nobody else. (If we get another four years of the current POTUS, the makeup of the Supreme Court will get a Conservative majority for generations. GENERATIONS. And that alone should worry you more than nearly anything else.)

That one candidate (Spoiler alert: it’s Joe Biden) may not have been your first-choice pick, but if you think that a leader should possess everything I just listed and more, he’s the only one you can vote for. And for any of you who are planning to vote 3rd party or not at all? Please do us all a favor and get over yourself. Now is not the time for a principled stand; we’re trying to avoid an unmitigated disaster. Until we move from a two-party system to something else, your little tantrum stunt is only going to help us get four more years of waking up every single day, wondering what was done overnight that we have to worry about NOW. I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited at the idea that we could once again have a President who does his actual job without us having to be on edge all the time.

Lastly…

11) Do not go back to sleep. Hopefully Joe Biden will win and our country will get back on the road to greatness. He will not be on Twitter all the time. We will learn about what’s going on in the Oval Office via regular press briefings and the more “normal” methods that were in practice before 2016. The rest of the world will start looking at us with hope instead of worry. That said, he can’t do the work by himself. Electing Joe Biden the 46th President of our country doesn’t mean we get a free pass to become so relaxed that we, once again, become lazy and uninvolved. In fact, it’s the opposite. We still have a pandemic to get through. We all still need to do our part to make Black Lives Matter. We still need to do all we can to make sure that every American citizen has equal rights no matter their race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, or disability. We need to be kind to each other. We need to get back to being the UNITED States. If we don’t do the work, it won’t be long before we find ourselves right back here, and I know that just doesn’t work for me. How about you?