A voter guide compiles electoral candidates’ biographical information, policy positions and priorities, and any public commitments made as part of their campaigns. The guide is shared widely with citizens in the lead-up to an election.
Purpose: Groups have developed and disseminated voter guides in the pre-election period to help voters make choices by providing comparative details about political parties and candidates. The guides also serve as a public record that monitoring groups can use to benchmark performance once an elected official takes office.
These guides can be produced either as online resources or as print copies. Traditionally, voter guides were printed publications physically distributed to the voters, but in today’s digital world, they are more often distributed via websites or mobile apps that voters can access online. While moving voter guides online can increase the scale of distribution, internet access must be widely available, and websites sometimes exclude populations, especially people with disabilities or with other factors that limit access. Therefore, accessibility standards7 are important to consider when implementing websites or mobile apps. Voter guides have also been used in the form of briefings or infographics for the media to disseminate to voters and to challenge candidates during television debates in the election campaign period.
Groups have created voter guides by:
- Organizing public forums or dialogues in order to collect information on citizen priorities and identify the most pressing of those issues;
- Creating a “voter guide information packet” that includes questions regarding candidates’ positions on citizen issues;
- Distributing the voter guide information packet to the candidates to review and answer the questions;
- Recording interviews with candidates about their policy positions and then posting them online;
- Collecting candidates’ responses to the voter guide information packet questions; Posting the candidates’ biographical data and their responses to the voter guide questions online or in print; and
- Publicizing the voter guide through postings on websites, email listservs, social media platforms, newspapers, radio and public forums.
Monitoring groups commonly follow up on their pre-election voter guide activities in two ways:
The first is post-election monitoring and reporting based on the information collected for the voter guide. Citizens and CSOs can use this information as benchmarks or indicators when monitoring elected officials’ behavior post-election, advocating for change, or working with newly elected public officials to enhance their accountability to constituents. For example, environmental organizations can use voter guides to monitor elected officials’ follow-through on environmental campaign promises to inform their advocacy campaigns and maintain public pressure on elected officials in both the majority and opposition parties.
The second way groups have followed up on a pre-election voter guide is to continue producing such guides over a series of elections in order to monitor how political party and candidate positions, as well as citizen priorities, change over time. This has helped citizens and CSOs identify trends. The continued use of voter guides can also foster more systemic change. As voter guides become a part of the political landscape, candidates and political parties will begin to expect that groups will monitor and record their actions and promises, and that they will be held accountable if elected. When operating under a constant spotlight, it is more likely that public officials will alter their behavior to become more accountable to citizens.
Civic groups and journalists increasingly use websites to track adherence to election promises, issue periodic progress reports, and, when public officials campaign in additional election cycles, keep those officials accountable to their previous campaign promises.
The Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) monitors public statements and promises in Serbian elections to assess if they are based on factual information. Their aim is to hold candidates publicly accountable to their word in elections and prevent misinformation in election campaigns. Statements made by candidates in election campaigns are published on their portal istinomer.rs (Truth-O-Meter) and are assessed on their factualness.
7 “Accessibility, Usability, and Inclusion,” World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative, accessed October 5, 2022, https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-usability-inclusion/.