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Know Before You Vote: Gubernatorial (Governor’s) Elections

Welcome to our education series leading up to the November 5th general election! In each post, we’ll feature a set of elected officials on this year’s ballots, and show you what to look for if you want to research candidates that are running for office in your area. This article will focus on the state level and specifically governor’s races, which are officially known as gubernatorial races. Several states this year will have the opportunity to elect their governor and lieutenant governor. Here’s a breakdown of the positions affiliated with governor’s races:

  • Governor: Like role of the president, a governor serves as the head of the executive branch of their respective state. Governor’s duties vary state to state and are written into each state’s constitution. Potential responsibilities can include signing bills into law, holding special sessions of the state legislature, appointing various judicial and state offices, and serving as commander-in-chief of the state’s National Guard. In your state, the governor holds the highest office, and makes crucial administrative decisions which affect all aspects of life.
  • Lieutenant Governor: Similar to a Vice President, a lieutenant governor serves as the second-highest office in a state. Their main responsibility involves stepping into the role of governor if the Governor is no longer able to hold the office. Additional responsibilities vary from state to state and are not distinguished within the Constitution. Rather, they are adopted by an administration, and can include visiting communities throughout the state, advocating for legislation on behalf of the governor, and ceremonial roles. 5 States do not have a Lieutenant Governor: Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming.
  • Secretary of State: The secretary of state is the chief clerk for their state. Secretaries of state are often responsible for the management of important records, such as authenticating business entities and keeping track of available business names. In 35 states, the secretary of state is elected. In other states, it is an appointed position by the governor. Responsibilities vary largely state to state. A common duty is maintaining election oversight. Secretaries of state are tasked with enforcement of election rules and regulations. Typically, important voter information and guidelines can be found on a Secretary of State’s website.

In Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, this position is called secretary of the commonwealth. Alaska, Hawa’ii, and Utah do not have this position, and many of its general responsibilities fall to the lieutenant governor. 

Looking for more information on each role? Check out Ballotpedia

As detailed above, all of these roles play a significant part in your statewide government. Your vote helps determine how certain functions of your state operate and change. 


What to look for when researching your candidate:

Prior Experience: What is their background relating to the role? What makes them qualified to serve your state?

Statewide Needs: The needs of a state system depend on its demographics and attributes – is your state mainly rural? What are the main sources of jobs? What are the rising needs among the population? How important is severe weather response and research? What are rising health needs? 

In your day to day life, what aspects of state governance feel most important to you? What aspects of your state are community members discussing? Do you feel they have importance as well? 

Positions and Stances: Has the candidate released statements regarding their positions on key matters pertaining to your town or city? If not, you can contact them asking for a statement!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much time will this research take?

A: It will take some time. You’ll want to sit down for a bit and take a few notes. We don’t know your research style, but a full dive into state research could last about 20 minutes. Think about it this way: Now through the election, you can spend each week researching a different set of candidates. Taking 20 minutes a week to make a confident, informed decision sounds like time well spent. For more in-depth understanding, you might consider attending city council or school board meetings. This can be time-consuming, but these sessions are where many of the decisions that affect your life on a day-to-day level are made!


Q: How do I know who’s on the ballot?

A: Sources such as Ballotpedia and the League of Women Voters provide a snapshot of local, regional, and state races across the U.S.


Q: How do I find nonpartisan research?

A: The above sources sometimes link nonpartisan research. You can also try a good ol’ Google Search. The range and volume of ballot races challenges voter engagement organizations to find ways to provide this information in elections to come.


Q: So I started my research and it’s actually a lot of fun! I love this. I want to share this with my friends and school so they can be informed too. Should I make my own guide?


A: Of course you should! That’s what we’re all about. Check out our resources on creating your own voter guide here, and our resource on how to distribute your own candidate guide here. Strapped for time? See if your friends will help divvy up the work.


Make sure to check out all three articles in this series, including criminal justice races and municipal races. Share them with your friends, and Go Vote!

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