Lesson 1: Who Is Running For Office? Researching the Candidates
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Lesson 1: Who Is Running For Office? Researching the Candidates

While students wait for their mail-in ballot or to vote in-person on Election Day, they can find out what offices and candidates are on their ballot. (45 minutes)



Who’s running for office this election cycle? What offices? What candidates? What do you know about them? Why are they important? Discuss down ballot races and the role state and local governments play in making the laws that affect us on a daily basis.

Review Key Terms

Office, incumbent, challenger, down ballot races, opinion polls, ballot question, partisan, nonpartisan, federalism, branches of government. executive, legislative, district, redistricting, Senator, Governor, minor party, independent, spoiler effect, Committeeperson.

Whole Class Instruction

Before going to vote, it’s important to learn about the candidates so you can be an informed voter. There are usually a lot of candidates and offices you’re less familiar with than the presidency, so you’re allowed to bring along a personal “cheat sheet” or voter guide with the candidates you’ve chosen. In this lesson, we’ll learn where to find partisan and nonpartisan sources of information so you can evaluate the candidates and make informed choices for your own voter guide.

Authentic Performance Task

Who’s on my ballot? Part 1: Finding nonpartisan information about candidates.
Go to the Committee of Seventy ballot tool and enter your email and your home address. Explain that this is an example of a nonpartisan source, and we’ll look at partisan sources later. If you’re not in Southeastern PA, use Vote411.org.

  • Click the “Sign Up” button to create a free account.
  • On the left side of the screen there are drop down menus for Federal, State, and Local Candidates. Explain the concept of federalism, or federal system of government.
  • Click the different candidate types menu and read the “About” section. What does it tell you about this office? Discuss branches of government.
  • Click on the candidates. What can you learn about them?
  • On a Google Doc or clean sheet of paper, make a T-chart labeled with each office and add information about the office, the candidate’s names above the columns. There are also several minor party candidates that can be added later if they choose. Students write down the information about each candidate that they feel is important. They will add information from other nonpartisan and partisan sources later.
  • Click “Next Office” in the top-right corner. This will take them to candidates for the next office on the ballot. Ask students who the candidates are. Do you all have the same candidates listed? Why or why not? Discuss political districts. What congression, legislative, or council district do you live in? Read the “About” section, read about the candidates, and create a new T-chart for the next office.
  • Click “Next Office” and repeat the T-chart procedure for each office. They should include information about the offices they are unfamiliar with.
    • What is your PA Senate district? What is your PA House district? Who is the incumbent? Who is/are the challenger(s)?
    • What is a ballot question? Are there any on the ballot?


Are any races uncontested? Are there any offices not on the ballot? Why not?

Go to the your county elections webpage for a complete list of candidates for office. For example, do a web search for “Philadelphia City Commissioners list of candidates for office” if you are in Philadelphia. This list has every candidate on your county’s ballots. Are there any other candidates listed in your districts? Discuss minor party and independent candidates. What impact could they have on the election? Discuss the spoiler effect.


Go to the nonpartisan page Ballotpedia and enter your address or the names of the candidates on your ballot. Read about each candidate and add information to your T-charts. Another optional nonpartisan source is Vote411.org.