Your guide to becoming an informed voter

0. Introduction

Listen (8:28)

We discuss why it's important not just to vote, but be an informed and confident voter. We also talk about what this podcast is and is not, and what each episode will cover.


Your homework this week is to think about why you vote, or why you don't.

  • If you are someone who has never voted, think about what you want to learn that will make you feel like an informed voter
  • If you do vote but you know someone who doesn’t, think about why they don’t and how you could start a conversation to help them feel confident voting

1. The Federal Government

Listen (18:16)

In this first official episode, Eli and Sonia take you through the basic structure of the federal government. We describe each of the three branches and how they interact, as well as who belongs in each branch. We also talk about what each branch controls, who you vote for and who is appointed, and how subsections of the three main branches work.


A quick correction: in this episode, we said that the President appoints secretaries, diplomats, and justices, and the Senate confirms them. Technically, the President nominates people for those positions and then the Senate confirms them.


Your homework this week is to look up your federal representatives.

  • Know who your senators and representative are
  • Look into their legislative interests and priorities
  • Maybe follow them on twitter, or put their office phone number in your address book

2. State Governments

Listen (15:48)

In this episode Eli and Sonia provide you with an overview of state governments. We couldn’t do every single state individually, but we give a broad sketch of what most state governments look like. We also describe federalism and how it works, with a couple of examples to provide some clarity.


A quick clarification: in this episode we unintentionally implied that the U.S. Postal Service is not an agency. This is incorrect! The USPS is an independent agency under the Executive branch. However, the Constitution also explicitly gives the Federal Government the power to establish post offices and post roads, which is why it’s a federal agency rather than run by states.


Your homework this week is to look up your state representatives.

  • Find out who they are!
  • Maybe check out their voting history on some issues you care about, and see if you want to write to them or call them about anything pending
  • Put their numbers into your address book, and consider going to a town hall or public event where one of them will be present.

3. Local Governments

Listen (9:12)

In this episode Sonia and Eli talk about the importance of local governments. We’ll discuss various local systems, and some of the positions in government that you should know about when going to vote. We’ll also give you some examples to highlight how your everyday life is affected by the things your local government controls.


Your homework this week is to look up your local governments and learn things about them.

  • Who is your mayor? Who is your city councilor? Where are their offices?
  • What level of local government runs your schools? Your zoning? Your law enforcement?

4. A History of Voting in the United States

Listen (12:10)

In this episode Eli and Sonia will give you a brief history of voting in the United States. The history of voting is long and fraught with struggle. We won’t go in depth into any specific piece of history, but we’ll give you an idea of the timeline that has resulted in your right to vote. We’ll take you from the Revolutionary Era through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and on to the Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements.


Your homework this week is to connect your family and community history to the history of voting.

  • Ask your parents or grandparents if they remember the Civil Rights movement, or the passage of the 26th Amendment during the Vietnam War. How did they feel about it? Did they participate in any way?
  • See if you can find out anything about local efforts to secure the vote for disenfranchised groups. (Your local library or historical society may have something on local history which the librarians can help you find.)

5. Voter Suppression

Listen (16:26)

In this episode Sonia and Eli describe various methods of intentional voter suppression. While some of these methods, like racist Jim Crow laws, have been weakened with time, others are alive and well today. With this episode we hope to make you alert to the danger posed by voter suppression. We also want to demonstrate how much voter suppression happens now. We’ll go through a list of common suppression techniques, and focus on one specific case to give you an idea of the true scope of the problem.


Your homework this week is to check your registration and examine your state’s voting laws.

  • If you haven’t registered to vote, GO REGISTER TO VOTE!
  • If you have registered, check that your registration is up to date and that it hasn’t been purged.
  • Look at your state’s voting laws. Does your state disenfranchise felons? Does it require ID to vote? Can you vote early or by mail?
  • How have your state’s voting laws changed recently? Are there any plans to change them for the upcoming election?

6. How Other Countries Vote

Listen (9:29)

In this episode, Sonia and Eli explain how other countries structure their governments and elect their representatives. We'll talk about different ways to ensure that the population is represented, and how those systems compare to the United States. We will also cover Ranked Choice Voting, which is an alternative way to run elections that tries to ensure that the person who wins is the one that most number of people are happiest with.


Your homework this week is to pick a country and learn about its government.

  • Who is the head of state and who is the head of government? How does the legislature work?
  • For bonus points: see if there is a group in your area campaigning for Ranked Choice Voting to be used in your local or state elections, and consider supporting their efforts!

7. All the Elections!

Listen (10:53)

In this episode, Sonia and Eli review every kind of election that could show up on your ballot this Election Day, from the federal to the local level. We introduce the primary and caucus systems, and explain the Electoral College and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. We also explore ballot initiatives (a.k.a. referenda or propositions) and how they come to be on the ballot.


Your homework this week is to check your local election cycles.

  • See who in your state government is up for election or reelection this year
  • Check to see if there are any ballot initiatives happening in your state, and then look them up to figure out what you think about them
  • See who’s running for what positions in your state, then do a little research on them to see who you might want to vote for

8. How to Pick a Candidate

Listen (8:19)

In this episode, perhaps the most important one of the series, Sonia and Eli discuss how to pick which candidates you’ll vote for. We start by talking about preparation, and why it’s important to go into the voting booth with a plan to vote in every race. We cover how to pick a candidate when you don’t agree fully with any of the choices, and how to square the desire to vote for a third-party candidate with our two-party reality. We also discuss strategies for voting for judges and ballot initiatives.


Your homework this week is to pick your candidates.

  • Go through and do all the stuff we talked about in this episode
  • Make sure you know where your list of candidates is so you are ready to vote

9. How to Vote

Listen (13:56)

In this episode, Sonia and Eli talk about the different ways you can vote and how ballots get counted. First, we talk about getting registered to vote, and how easy it is to do so. We cover the pros and cons of voting in person, voting early, and voting by mail, and why all three methods are important. (And we list several ways you cannot vote.) Finally, we detail how the vote is counted, audited, and certified, and how news outlets are able to call elections on Election Day even before that count finishes.


Your homework this week is to go vote!

  • If this was your first time voting, how did it feel?
  • If your state uses electronic voting machines, campaign to get rid of them and replace them with paper ballots
  • Keep an eye out for voter suppression tactics this election cycle. Have you seen any? Have your friends?

About the Show

Why You Should Vote is a show about helping people learn why and how to vote. We want every single citizen to exercise their right to vote, and we want them to walk into the voting booth informed about both the candidates they're voting for and the system that they're participating in. Why You Should Vote is one part civics lesson and one part how-to guide: the missing manual for voters.

The hosts, Eli and Sonia, are not historians, political scientists, or community organizers. We're just a couple of nerdy citizens who had to learn this complicated system for ourselves and have spent time explaining it to others in the hopes that they go vote. And now we're explaining it to you.