So, you've never voted in an election before. You're worried about the amount of information out there and how to choose the right candidate for you. No worries, I'll do your thinking for you. Tell you how I have come to decide who I would vote for in each of the elections I've voted in.
1. Register to vote.
None of these other steps matter if you can't vote.
2. Decide what issues you think are very important to you.
This is the first step because it allows you to focus on issues rather than a party or a particular candidate, at first glance. I am starting with issues rather than where you stand on the issues because, well the next step. From here, you can decide the preliminary issues that you want to research and think are vital to your understanding of the political process. I would advise making a list of about five issues that you think you might be strong enough to sway how you vote in the election.
3. Research, with an open mind, these issues and from this research form your opinions on where you stand on these issues.
Step two and I'm already starting to feel some resistance. Who has time to research all of these things? Well, I'm not talking about going crazy in-depth with these things, but you can easily do the research quickly, if you're just focusing on a handful of issues. You can easily go to such sites as PolitiFact and FactCheck and search for these issues. They might not give you all of the information you look for but they link to a lot of credible research, as well. Using actual research to determine where you stand on an issue will make you more informed on the subject and less likely to believe the misinformation about a particular topic/issue. Focusing on issues that you already think are important will make it easier for you to research them.
3. After you have done your research on the topics, re-order the issues in terms of their importance to you now.
Also, be sure to include any issues that you want to research. Don't be afraid to toss aside issues that you thought were important but research changed your mind.
4. Using the issues you find important as a guide, take a quiz to match up your beliefs with that of a candidate.
I, personally, recommend VoteSmart's database, their quiz found on their website (www.votesmart.org/voteeasy) is fantastic. You can rank the relative importance of various issues and skip questions that are not important to you. They also provide their research into why they say a candidate supports or doesn't support various issues. This research is worthwhile. But if you're not using their database be sure to focus on questions that have to deal with the issues you think are the most imporant and weight their answers accordingly. For instance, if abortion is the biggest issue to you then don't put a dispropotionate amount of weight on a candidate's responses to something about the war in Afghanistan.
5. Research what the candidate stands for outside of the quiz.
The quizzes don't include every issue on them, obviously. So, if there's a particular issue not addressed, you can research it yourself. I would use VoteSmart's database, as they provide voting records, public statements, etc. They have summaries for bills so you can see if the candidate supported issues that you think are important.
6. Vote on Election Day.
That's pretty much it. You can pay attention to more things but looking at things that are not based in fact, reason, or logic are not good things to listen to. If you run into something that doesn't sound quite true, sounds too good to be true, or just sounds ridiculous, check a fact-checking site such as PolitiFact or FactCheck or the Washington Post FactChecker. They are valuable resources. Voting for someone you actually believe in feels a lot better than voting for someone because your parents or friends believe in him/her.