A kidney voter’s guide to navigating the election

The upcoming election on November 3 involves far more than just the much-discussed presidential race. Americans will also be making decisions about local, state and Congressional races, in additional to all the measures and propositions that can be found on different states’ ballots. With all these choices to make by Election Day, how can kidney patients, their caregivers and loved ones determine who and what to vote for?

The American Kidney Fund (AKF) is a nonpartisan organization that works with elected officials on both sides of the aisle to achieve our policy priorities. While we will not tell you who to vote for, we have put together this blog post to help you navigate the election and learn how to determine which candidates and policies would be best for the kidney community. You can use these tips to help you decide how to vote as you research candidates and ballot questions.

How to find candidate platforms

The first step in becoming an educated voter is to determine which races and candidates will be on your ballot. Some states send sample ballots through the mail so you can be prepared to vote when the time comes, whether you are voting by mail or in-person. Ballotpedia also has a simple ballot lookup tool that anyone in any state can use to see which candidates will be on your ballot for the upcoming election, based on the address at which you are registered to vote. You can also use the ballot lookup tool to go to candidates’ Ballotpedia profiles, where you can learn more information about candidates and be redirected to their campaign websites for further reading.

There are two ways to determine whether a candidate is right for you:

  1. If a candidate is an incumbent (they currently hold the office they are running for) and is up for reelection, you can use Ballotpedia or their official office website to look at what bills and legislation they have introduced and supported while in office. Researching what legislation they have supported in the past can give you a good idea of what their priorities would be if they are reelected. If they currently hold office but are running for a different office, you can still research the votes they have cast in their current position.
  2. If a candidate you are researching does not currently hold office, you can read through their official campaign website to learn about their policy priorities.

When researching a candidate’s positions, look for a section on their website called “issues,” “policies,” “platform” or something similar. If you are looking for the platform of a candidate up for reelection, visit their official campaign website, not their official office website, because the two websites will have different information. While the official campaign website will have information about their future priorities should they get reelected, you can still also review their official office website, of course, especially if you want to learn about their votes and priorities over their past term(s) in office.

Candidates for local office may not have their full platform information published on their websites, or they may not even have websites at all, especially if they are not running as a member of one of the major political parties. If that is the case, Ballotpedia sometimes provides information on local candidates’ priorities and campaign platforms. You can also do a Google search to see what local media coverage they have received—many local news stations or local public access stations profile candidates when they announce their bid for election.

How to tell if a candidate’s platform is kidney-friendly

Every voter has different priorities and needs that will help them decide which candidates to support for different offices. As a member of the kidney community, you can decide who to vote for based on candidates’ support of kidney issues. Here are some kidney-friendly policies to look for in candidates’ platforms:

  • Access to affordable health care – Look for policies that expand access to Medicaid, provide funding for Medicaid and Medicare, guarantee that insurance carriers accept charitable premium assistance payments and protect dialysis patients’ right to be on private insurance plans.
  • Access to necessary medications – Look for policies that support legislation to make prescription medications more affordable and extend the Medicare immunosuppressive drug coverage for transplant patients under the age of 65.
  • Encouraging organ donation – Look for policies that offer paid and/or job-protected leave for living donors, tax breaks to help living donors offset some of their costs and other policies to remove barriers to living organ donation. AKF has been working tirelessly at the state level to pass legislation that encourages more organ donation and protects living donors, and we are grateful to the legislators across the country who have been making this issue a priority.
  • Initiatives that could help prevent kidney disease – Look for policies that address environmental factors that can lead to kidney disease and other chronic conditions. Such policies could increase access to healthy foods in food deserts, promote community health education and/or focus specifically on reducing rates of kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Funding for kidney research and innovation – Look for policies that fund the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (part of the National Institute of Health), as well as policies that support the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Chronic Kidney Disease Initiative or the Kidney Innovation Accelerator Program (KidneyX) developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These are federal policies, so they will primarily apply to candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate only.
  • Additional kidney disease needs – Every community is different, but perhaps kidney patients in your community have trouble getting transportation to dialysis. If so, look for policies that address transportation access or increase funding for public transportation. Or, perhaps you live in a rural area and there are very few providers that take your insurance. If that is the case, look for policies that encourage more providers or insurance options in your region.

What to do if you cannot find much information on candidates

Some candidates, especially candidates for local races, may not always have statements or policies that are specific to the kidney community. This can be because kidney issues are debated at a higher level than the office they are running for—for example, a candidate running for city council may not have a position on access to insurance because that is often legislated at the state or federal level. Try finding a candidate’s positions on other related issues, like expanding operating hours for local food banks run by the city or county so low-income kidney patients can access free or affordable kidney-friendly foods.

If you have questions about a candidate’s position(s), reach out to their campaign for more information. You can use the contact form on their campaign website to ask a question or contact them via the other contact information they have listed on the website. Remember—candidates have to earn your vote, so they should be willing to answer your questions and clarify their stances on certain issues if needed.

How to find information on ballot questions

In addition to voting for candidates for office, your ballot may contain questions—measures or propositions—depending on where you live. These questions may be about any range of topics, including health care, and they can sometimes be confusing because of the way they are written. Turn to Ballotpedia or the websites for your local news or public access stations to learn more about any questions that may be on your ballot—you may find that these websites explain the question(s) in language that is easier to understand.

How to vote safely during the pandemic

Once you have done your research and decided which candidates and ballot questions to vote for, you are ready to cast your ballot. Check out our blog post on voting safely in the 2020 election to learn how to get your voice heard while staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take action now

With the election just two weeks from today, now is a great time to remind your elected officials that you care about issues impacting the kidney disease community. You can make a difference in two minutes by emailing your U.S. senators and representative through our website to urge them to take decisive action on kidney disease before the election.


About the Author

Kate Tremont

Kate Tremont is the associate director of government affairs at the American Kidney Fund.