(UR) Like almost everyone else on the planet, I spent last week binge watching #HouseOfCards. The rawness of the political fiction is so gripping, you almost can’t stop halfway through the season to do other things — like pay attention to Trump winning Florida. The disconnect is interesting — how invested I can be in a fictitious presidential race while real politicians are currently backstabbing and infighting in the same way, with tangible consequences. But that wasn’t what floored me.

Half-way through one of the episodes, Wolf Blitzer and one of his CNN friends were explaining to me how the democratic nomination works. This, even though I’m Canadian, hit me as being weird. Why, I asked, do they need to explain the American democratic system to viewers who predominantly live in the U.S.?

The quick answer, I realized, is that political systems that are technically democratic tend to be pretty confusing. This comes from a long history of building constitutional or legal checks-and-balances into the system, to try to avoid creating a tyranny. As a result, the political system — particularly in the U.S. — has become something of a confusing web to navigate.

This election, some people are saying, might be the most important election “since 1932” or “in our lifetimes,” making it a pretty big deal, even if this all sounds a little blown out of proportion to you. Then again, every election is important. It is one of the few times when we, the voter, can interact directly with our government. For this reason, it is essential that we, as voters, make sure we are as informed as we can be, even if we only try to know a little more about the democratic system we live in.

1. Understand Your System

Might seem like an obvious one, but for some of us it’s been a while since high school, and a refresher can’t hurt. If you’re into reading, try this BBC article. If you’re short on time, try an informative video

2. Understand the Platforms and Positions of the Major Parties

Often, politicians hoping to receive the presidential nomination play to the long-standing dogma of their parties. In the ongoing presidential race, we’re seeing some candidates like Trump, Cruz, and Saunders, who are not completely in line with their parties’ base values. This is sort of meaningless unless we understand what the Republican Party and the Democratic Party stand for, and what type of Congress the President will be up against, or in line with, during their presidency.

Also, be sure to investigate third parties and their candidates, as they provide a viable alternative to the traditional platforms. Some established, active third parties are the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, though they are by no means the only options. A list of the top ten most active third parties can be found here.

3. Understand the Candidates’ Platforms

This is going to be a little bit tricky given that the U.S. is still currently deciding which candidates are going to represent each of the major parties. Google them, do a little research, go to their websites and see what they write about themselves — then see what others, but not their opponents, are saying about them. Try for alternative media sources like theantimedia.org. Maybe even take an online test to see which candidates beliefs match yours — at least as a starting point.

Elections are exciting, and there’s always a lot of hype. One of the best things we can do, as voters, is just be as aware as we can.

This article (What Every Voter Should Understand Before Casting a Single Vote) is an opinion editorial (OP-ED). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Underground Reporter. This article is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris “Kikila” Perrin and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to undergroundreporter2016@gmail.com. Image credit: Flickr/Erik (HASH) Hersman