Informed voters shouldn’t neglect to research state-level candidates, issues

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Informed voters shouldn’t neglect to research state-level candidates, issues

By Isabella Winkler, Columnist

Many students on campus will be fulfilling the ultimate civic duty for the first time this week. But as you make your way to the polls, some of you may realize the ballot is not what you expect.

As a first-time voter, I wasted no time in casting my vote. But once I got to the Illini Union’s Federal Room on Tuesday afternoon, proudly gave my name and confirmed my residency in Champaign county, I realized that maybe I was too eager and overconfident.

Unfortunately, the ballot is not as easy as just checking a box for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In fact, even though we’re made to believe that who we choose to vote for president is the most important decision to make, there are a dozen other boxes to check on that ballot.

Over 60 percent of students at the University are from Illinois, which means that voting on senators and representatives will directly affect us. But, even if you’re not local to this city or state, it’s still important to realize the weight of the matters on which you have the opportunity to vote.

The last eight years of the Obama administration perfectly exemplify the importance of congressional elections. These are the people we vote into office and trust to represent us by voting on bills and passing legislation: In some cases, their work affects us more directly than the president’s.

In fact, the people we vote into Congress have the power to completely shut down the government, as demonstrated in 2013. They also have the power to appropriate funds, declare war and override the president’s vetoes.

These elections aren’t publicized because they’re not as exciting as the presidential race, but don’t be fooled — they are just as crucial, whether you’re from Illinois or not. So before you cast your vote, make sure you do your research on Mark Kirk and Tammy Duckworth, who are running for Senate, and Rodney Davis and Mark Wicklund, who are running for the House of Representatives.

If you’ve never heard these names before, you’re not in trouble. In fact, you may be at an advantage; the fact that these two names aren’t plastered all over every news channel lets you make up your own mind without the influence of the media. But that also means you have to take a few extra steps to get to know these candidates.

Websites such as votesmart.org are a great resource for unbiased information about candidates, particularly for access to voting records, which are the perfect places to start to understand a candidate’s stances and gauge for consistency.

Another matter that will appear on the ballot is the Illinois Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox Amendment, which, if approved, would ensure that money raised through transportation-level taxes would be put into a “lockbox.”

Given the current state of the Illinois budget, the funds raised through these taxes should be going toward infrastructure and other transportation-related projects, but are instead being used for other underfunded government programs.

On that note, this election proves to be important to all University students, not just Illinois residents, because we are all affected by our state budget — or lack thereof. Luckily, we have the chance to vote on state senators and representatives who we can trust to represent us as students in the wake of the budget impasse.

At the University, programs like the rape advocacy center, the counseling center and the first-year discovery program have gone underfunded because of budget cuts. Perhaps most strongly felt by Illinois residents, though, was the MAP grant funding that Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed, which would have lessened the financial burden for more than 5,000 University students.

Springfield relied on stopgap funding and took more than a year to agree on a budget with Rauner, leaving Illinois families in the dust. But while it may seem like congressmen and women are historically inconsistent, untrustworthy and inattentive, young voters like us are the ones who can shift the paradigm.

With that in mind, don’t forget how significant your ballot is given that our generation is the most targeted amongst candidates for votes. And don’t forget about the candidates who get lost in the woodwork in the midst of the presidential race — they’re more important than you think.

Isabella is a sophomore in ACES.

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