“My vote does not matter.”
This is exactly the sort of idea you should never have at all, let alone when there is an election. Voting for your government ‒ municipal, provincial or federal ‒ is something you must do to support your city, province, and country. The most important thing to remember is that you should participate in your country’s politics wherever and whenever it is feasible, and remind yourself that you are not simply a small voice in a large country, but rather an important part of your community’s future. Ask any candidate running for elected office who is trying to earn your vote, and they will honestly tell you that your vote does matter in the democratic process. Once your head is wrapped around this, it is time to move onto the most important question: how do you decide who to vote for?
It is easy to feel pushed around during an election cycle. There is certainly no shortage of aggressive advertisements. It is necessary, however, to push beyond what you are faced with initially in order to develop a well-informed opinion.
A good start would be to reflect on your own opinions, needs, and goals for wherever you live. These may or may not coincide with those of your family or peer group, but either way, it is important that you know what you, yourself, want from your elected officials.
Next, learn about the election process your area uses to elect governments during this specific election. It may not be straightforward, and it is subject to change over time. The process can also be different whether you’re voting for your local council and school board, or your provincial or federal representative.
After these preliminary investigations, it would be good to start researching the parties available to you where you’re voting. There may be, like here in BC during a provincial or federal election, several political parties to vote for. These parties may differ from their federal counterparts, even if they share a name.
It’s good to investigate every party, even if you’re sure you won’t vote for them, to see how each party aligns with your own values and ideas. The incumbent party will have the most press coverage by default, as you will have known about them for at least one term. It is even more important, then, that you research the opposition, and other parties before an election.
In tandem with this, it is also paramount that you research the candidates themselves and not just their parties. This person in your community or electoral district will be in charge of representing you in whatever government you are electing them for, so choosing a good candidate is arguably even more important than choosing a party.
There is truly no right answer as to which candidates for public office are better than others, however there are some indicators you can pay attention to. As we, in Canada, very much value our democracy, we should seek candidates who would uphold our democratic systems. This means scrutinizing our candidates’ moral inclinations. We should avoid “dictatorial” or authoritarian figures. That may seem unnecessary to mention in a country like ours, but we only enjoy our democracy for as long as we actively preserve it.
The answer to the question, “How do I vet political candidates before I vote?,” is therefore not a straightforward one, but one you should seriously contemplate every election cycle. It is important to think about what you value and what you want from your representative, how this aligns with political parties, and, most importantly, how it aligns with the individual candidates who want your vote.