Wise voting includes homework

Posted: Monday, October 04, 2004

I recently voted an in-person absentee ballot and, while at the polling place, I heard another voter say, "I thought we were voting for our U.S. senator, but it wasn't on the ballot." In response, the election worker explained to her that we wouldn't be voting on that until the November election.

The good news is that she cared enough to vote, but the bad news is that she really wasn't prepared to vote in the borough election.

Are you?

Almost all of the media campaigns that we are being subjected to these days deal with presidential and statewide candidates, so I can understand her confusion. It is the local elections, though, that affect our lives more on a daily basis, so it is these that we should be most prepared for.

Regardless of whether an election is local, state or national, though, before you can decide for whom you want to vote, you need to know what you want the politicians to do once they are in office.

And that means understanding the issues that are important to you, whether it's the environment, financial aid, health care, your job, national security or whatever.

Talk to candidates during campaigns. Ask your questions, demand answers, vote for the candidate who best addresses your concerns and become an active participant in our democratic process.

Watching debates also is an important way for voters to learn more about the candidates and the issues before the election, so that they can cast an informed vote. At the same time, voters need to view debates with a careful eye to get the most information.

It will help if you take some time before the debate to find out what the important campaign issues are. Decide what issues are most important to you. Think about the questions you may have and the information you want to get from the debate to help you in your decision making. Open your mind to new opinions and impressions of the candidates regardless of party affiliation.

When watching a debate, ask yourself questions like these to help you judge the fairness of the debate and the performance of the candidates: Are the questions clear, fair and equally tough on all candidates? Do the candidates answer questions directly, or do they evade them or fail to answer the specific question? Do they give specifics about their stands on the issues, or do they speak in generalities? Do they talk about their own policies and positions, or do they mostly attack their opponents? Do their responses appear overly rehearsed or "canned"?

Watching the debate in a group and discussing it afterward helps to clarify your thoughts about what was said in the debate and how the candidates performed.

Ask yourself, based on the information you got from watching the debate, which candidate appears most qualified for the office. Ask yourself if you learned something new about the issues or the candidates. Were you influenced by comments made by reporters and commentators immediately before and after the debate?

Candidate debates give voters a chance to hear the candidates speak and respond to their opponents. They give candidates a chance to present their message directly to a wide audience.

As a voter, asking yourself the right questions before, during and after the debate can help you make the most of this opportunity to learn about the candidates and the issues.

Be an informed voter. Question. Ask. Research. Vote.

Betsy Kanago of Sterling is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Central Kenai Peninsula. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

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