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Accountability: We Voted Them Into Office, Now What?

June 14, 2023

Have you ever felt discouraged after voting for someone who didn’t keep their campaign promises and live up to their values once in office? You’re not alone. Fortunately, there are actions community members can take to hold their elected leaders accountable. 

Most of us are familiar with voting-out and replacing under-performing elected officials once their term is up – but there are also ways to hold our representatives accountable outside of elections, during the legislative cycle.

The first step to hold your elected representatives accountable is to know what they are doing in office such as what bills they support, if they’re centering the needs of their community, and if they are leading with respectable values. 

Tracking what bills an elected official supports, and their reasoning, can be complicated and tedious. For some, such tracking is a specialized career path that requires knowledge of our political system and the factors within the system that influence decision-making. Luckily for us, there are political, non-political, and issue-based organizations that provide tracking tools and resources to help out with this step in the accountability process. 

Organizations can provide the public with a wide range of services to help keep us informed on what’s going on in the halls of power – from newsletters, to webinars, blogs, social media accounts, and legislative report cards. One very important thing to keep in mind is that you have to make sure the values of the organization you receive information from align with your own – because to hold someone truly accountable you need access to high-quality information that’s rooted in facts.

Legislative report cards are the best and simplest place to learn about what elected leaders voted on, how they voted, what those decisions mean, and understand the factors that contributed to their leadership, or lack thereof. 

Courage Score, produced by Courage California, is an example of a data-based legislative report card that grades elected leaders on how they voted, how those votes reflect the needs of their community, and discloses campaign contributions. 

It is incredibly important in our democracy to follow the money-trail, because elected officials rely on large contributions to get elected. Because of money’s significant and influential role in our election process, politicians are sometimes swayed by the people and corporations that fund their election campaigns – tempting electeds to act in the interest of their donors, instead of their constituents, in order to keep donors happy and the money rolling in for future elections.  

Tip: Legislative report cards are different based on who produces them. Courage Score is multi-issue, whereas some are issue specific. For example, Planned Parenthood’s report card is focused on healthcare and California Environmental Justice Alliance on the environment. 

Once you found an organization with values that align with yours, it’s time to hold leaders accountable. This step can be done through a wide range of actions informed by your research and personal comfort level. 

Elected officials work for the public and therefore pay close attention to what’s happening in their district, in the news, and, increasingly, social media. This attention to the public offers you a variety of ways you can take action to hold an elected official accountable. 

How Californians can hold their elected officials accountable: 

  • Attend a town hall or district meeting and make your voice heard
  • Contact their office through mail, email, or over the phone
  • Organize and/or attend a protest
  • Contact the media, submit an Op-Ed and/or letter to the editor
  • Start, sign, and circulate petitions
  • Speak out on social media and tag their accounts 
  • Re-elect or vote them out of office 

Gone are the days of empty campaign promises! Now that you’re equipped with steps to hold representatives accountable, we hope you take action and push for courageous leaders who are reflective of the people they serve – when it matters. 

Holding elected official accountable is as easy as 1, 2, 3: 

  1. Research an organization that you trust for political information 
  2. Get informed through the organization’s tools and resources 
  3. Take action grounded in your information to hold leaders accountable  

Through calling out bad behavior and praising good actions we have the ability to apply ongoing pressure. Only people-power can combat the influence of money in our political system. After all, elected officials wouldn’t be in their position of power without your vote and you should remind them of that everyday.