Stephanie Skora, co-creator of the Girl, I Guess (GIG) voter guide, has always loved election season. Some of her earliest childhood memories entailed watching the results of the infamous 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore.
Skora's interest in politics is in fact one of the few things for which she actively gives credit to her parents.
"We were a working-class family," she recalled. "Whenever we needed the extra money, my mom would work as an election judge." Even Skora's elementary school "mock elections" left an impression, which is why, when it came time to attend college, she decided to pursue a political science degree at the University of Illinois.
From the start, Skora has been drawn to the drama and workings of electoral politics. It wasn't until she moved to Chicago in 2015, however, that she became immersed in the inner workings of municipal and general elections.
The conceptualization for the voter guide came after a Facebook post made by co-creator (and retired GIG co-writer) Ellen Mayer. At the time, Mayer was working as an editor for South Side Weekly and was heavily involved in the coverage of election cycles.
Skora remembers the post asking, "Wouldn't it be cool if somebody made a voter guide for leftists and progressives, then we can get everybody to turn out without having to deal with people's feelings about whether or not voting is colonialism?"
Skora messaged Mayer immediately and encouraged her to push forward with the idea. The pair then teamed up to draft the first GIG guide for the 2018 Democratic primary. Although Skora claims the first version of the guide was not up to her current standards, it nevertheless became popular among leftist circles, close friends and organizing acquaintances.
"The order wasn't coherent," she recalls. "We didn't cover all the races. It was just the stuff that we thought was interesting."
Skora and Mayer were nonetheless confident the guide would be a good resource to combat low voter-turnout, particularly for working-class individuals who didn't have time to do intensive electoral research.
It wasn't until the 2018 midterm general election that the popularity of the GIG voter guide really took off, making its way beyond the demographics of leftist spaces. That second edition was also when the Girl, I Guess brand was codified, and became the permanent identifier for the voter guide. In addition to making its way onto Reddit threads, Skora and Mayer received plenty of local news coverage, including a feature from the Chicago Sun- Times.
Skora realized the magnitude of the guide's impact after a Northwestern professor studying judicial retention elections reached out to GIG: "He said in the nicest way possible, y'all fucked up my research." That professor noted a spike in voter participation during the 2018 judicial election, estimating that 4% of Cook County voters had utilized Girl, I Guess in their polling decisions.
Although the research and drafting take several weeks (Skora admits to using up her paid time off to binge-write), the process begins long before election season takes off.
Skora explained, "I like to follow local politics, I follow state politics. I follow federal politics. This is just something that I pay attention to in my everyday life."
Skora's attuned political observations and community relationships drive many of her final endorsement decisions; she is frequently familiar with candidates long before she begins her election evaluations. "When I'm getting ready to write, I have an idea of who I'm looking for anyway. So I'm able to just do a deep dive into their donors and their policies without having to start from scratch when I'm looking into their campaign."
Skora has developed a grading rubric to evaluate candidates seeking endorsements and establish consistent metrics. The 2019 Municipal Guide used a "Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light'' system for alderperson raceswith green serving as an endorsement and red being "candidates that you should not vote for under any circumstance, or are significantly inferior to the endorsee." It is not uncommon for people to reach out directly to Skora, or respond online, if they are unhappy with an endorsement, or lack thereof.
When asked how she feels about going from a relatively unknown local organizer to "political influencer," Skora said she is still surprised, adding, "What is really wild to me is that the guide has gotten to the point now where it's like helping swing elections."
Skora cited Hoan Huynh, who is currently representing District 13 in the Illinois House of Representatives, as an example. Huynh caught Skora's attention during the 2022 General Election, bestowing him with the highest GIG endorsement, a "golden shrug." The endorsement resulted in additional press coverage for Huynh and gave him a competitive edge over his opponents, who Skora had not reviewed favorably. In the end, Huyhn won with 45.2% of the vote.
Despite her undeniable influence, Skora has faced criticism for candidates she's supported in the past. On other occasions she's faced backlash for not endorsing popular Democratic candidates, especially those predicted to win by their party. To this note, Skora reminds people that the guide is meant to be a resource: "I'm not trying to be a kingmaker in local elections or anything. The voter guide is a turnout tool."
Although GIG users have rapidly expanded, the overall aloof and sometimes gossipy tone of the guide has remained consistent. In fact, since the creation of the guide Skora has rarely ever remained neutral about anything political, which she said is a reflection of both her values and Chicago's political landscape: "This is ChicagoIf you think somebody's a clown and corrupt, we're gonna call them a corrupt clown."
Skora insisted she doesn't villainize "good candidates" over singular mistakes, adding thatwhile politicians and candidates hold an incredible amount of power and have a lot of responsibilitiesat the end of the day, "They're just people."
As someone who takes pride in calling herself an anarchist, Skora conceded that progressives won't be voting their way to a revolution anytime soon. But she maintained that it is their civic responsibility to use every tool in the toolbox to create the best conditions possible in the fight for liberation.
"We can elect people who are on our side, or who are part of our movements," Skora said. "There are genuinely good people who want to help create a more just world."