Creating a voter guide for the first time can be daunting! Here are some ideas to help you get started. More detailed information on each of these points can be found below.
- Find out which offices/seats are up for election for the given election year.
- Decide which races to cover, e.g., state only, local only, state and local.
- Determine who the candidates are for each race you are covering.
- Create your candidate survey or utilize Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection Survey.
- Determine how you will compile your information and how it will be published/promoted.
This is up to you! Most voter guides include federal and state level elections, such as U.S. Senate and U.S. House and races for Governor, State Legislature. Many choose to include local elections as well - offices such as school board; law enforcement officials, such as district attorney and sheriff; judges; mayors;, and county and city supervisors or councilmembers. Each locality is different, but usually it is best to give the voter as much information as possible.
Finding election information can be difficult, especially at the local level. Electoral systems throughout the United States vary, even within the same state, so there is no one-size-fits-all method to find local candidate lists or election results. However, Ballotpedia has developed the following tips after years of researching local elections.
How do I find out who administers them, and basic information, like who has filed for office – who is running?
Your state Department of Elections, Secretary of State, or Board of Elections website will have all of this information. Some states, such as Louisiana, publish local, state, and federal election information all in one place. Work your way down from there, starting with your county government website, then the city website, and finally the board, district, or court website depending on the type of office you're researching.
In order to get on the ballot, a candidate or party must meet a variety of state-specific filing requirements and deadlines. These regulations, known as ballot access laws, determine whether and how a candidate or party can appear on an election ballot. These laws are set at the state level and apply to state and congressional candidates.
It is best to divide your questions into three different categories:
1) Who the candidates are
2) What the candidates believe or value
3) Why the candidates believe or value those things
The best thing to do is work backwards:
1) Pick the date you want to publish/distribute the final candidate information
2) Give yourself two weeks prior to that date to analyze the data
3) Add an additional 2-4 weeks to distribute the survey to candidates and collect the answers
Here are some tips:
1) Keep your survey short - 15 questions maximum is ideal
2) Use a mixture of multiple choice and open ended questions
3) The survey should take the candidate about 10 minutes to complete
Absolutely! Your readers are likely to be more invested if they know candidates are being asked questions that matter to them.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, but survey and research expert, Elise Lockwood is here to help! Check out this short video.
If you don’t already have advertisers or sponsors, it may be harder for you to lay all the groundwork necessary to successfully sell advertising or sponsorship for your Voter Guide. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for a Voter Guide sponsor, or try to sell advertising in it, but it will be more challenging, and you may want to consider where you should focus your attention for your first time Voter Guide – editorial or advertising? Here are a few considerations:
- We already sell advertising, and have sold advertising for special sections before.
- If that’s the case, selling advertising or sponsorships for your Voter Guide is no different. However, is your current sales staff able to add this new opportunity to their workload? Will you need to develop new sales materials?
- How do we handle advertiser bias? We want our Voter Guide to be neutral and non-partisan, but many of our current or prospective advertisers have well-known party affiliations.
- This is a common concern. Many news outlets producing Voter Guides have decided to not sell advertising because of this concern. Others started out not selling advertising, and once they decided to, wish they would have done it from the beginning.
- Nationwide organizations with local chapters that are known to be non-partisan, like AARP, American Legion may be options.
- Ads should be clearly labeled as advertising and disclaimers about the Voter Guide’s content not reflecting the views and opinions of any advertisers should be considered.
- We don’t currently sell advertising, but think we need to in order to fund the Voter Guide, where do we start?
- Organizations such as the Institute for Nonprofit News, the American Journalism Project, or LION Publishers have resources to help publishers grow their revenue through advertising.
There are a lot of different things to consider when determining your advertising rates, such as frequency, your publication’s location, competitors, circulation, day of the week, print or digital or both, etc. Here’s a link to an article with some helpful guidance.
Organizations such as the Institute for Nonprofit News, the American Journalism Project, or LION Publishers have resources to help publishers grow their revenue through advertising.
Here’s a link to a starter template for creating your own Voter Guide promotion plan.
We recommend eight weeks in advance as the ideal. That allows time for promotion and for readership to build as the election approaches. If your voter guide is published eight weeks in advance of the election, it is worth as much to a reader every day of those eight weeks as it was the day it was published. Every time a voter goes to your voter guide, they will also be engaging with your site and daily journalism. If you secure sponsorship, that’s eight weeks of benefit for the sponsor.