Duty of Citizens to Inform Themselves

I like studying politics.  I like debating the issues and getting down into the details.  An election year is fun because we get more people paying attention.  When is it no longer fun?  Right about now in the final weeks of an election season.  The landscape is littered with campaign signs growing like weeds.  Television and the Internet are loaded with campaign ads filled with obnoxious and empty soundbites.  We get recorded calls from all sorts of groups with supposedly urgent election information.  Email boxes are loaded with mass mailings containing hyped up subject lines.  I find myself clicking delete in my mailbox far more than normal.  For me, it’s already well past oversaturation.

The Founding Fathers wanted an informed electorate.  They wanted people to exercise their right to vote armed with knowledge.  Know what your elected officials are up to and know their opposition.  Vote based on the records and articulated positions of each candidate.  Know what the third party candidates stand for.  Take any opportunity to question the candidate.  Separate the hype and double talk from the reality.  It is our duty to research and understand the incumbents and candidates.  That goes for primary races in the party for which we are enrolled (if one is enrolled in a party) and it goes for the general election.  It goes for the race at the top of the ticket all the way down to the family court judges.  Every one of these races is important.  Should an individual win, we are providing them with tremendous power over our lives.  Yes, I understand there is a priority on federal and state candidates.  I understand it is often difficult to get any information on judges.  But we should make the effort nonetheless.  One day in the future, you might find yourself in the courtroom of one of the judges on the ballot.  Did you use your opportunity to make a wise decision about whether or not to put them there?

As trivial as it sounds, the same holds true about local elections involving the dog catcher (assuming there is an actual opponent bothering to run).  You may have to deal with that person some day.  But more importantly, local elections involving mayors/town supervisors, county legislators/town boards/city councils, county controllers, etc., all involve people who have power over your every day life from local taxes to local ordinances.  We should all take the time to research their positions and make an informed decision when we vote.

The fever pitch of the 2010 election is already in place.  We still have time to make sure to research the candidates that we have not researched already, but we’re also going to have to ride out the annoyances until November 2nd.

But let’s work to make the 2011 local elections and 2012 state/federal elections better.  The 2012 presidential election will basically “begin” in early 2011.  Republicans will be gearing up as will Obama.  There is even a small possibility of a Democrat primary.  Encourage others to get informed about the issues and come to their own decisions.  Get people to understand how the legislative process works and why it is important to elect representatives at each level of government.  Get people to pay attention all the time, not just as an election gets closer.

People need to be processing information and writing about it.  Get people to write blogs.  It does not matter whether they get responses or not, or whether they have any viewers.  The procedures involved when  composing our thoughts in a way that can be understood by others helps us to better process the information and be ready to verbally communicate it to people.  It also creates a history of our writing for others to determine our knowledge on particular issues.  If the blog is indexed in Google, it could provide key pieces of information for others doing research about a particular issue or candidate.  It exercises our writing ability and that is a skill that can come in handy for a variety of uses.

Get involved.  Learn about the candidates and their positions.  Learn about the issues and determine how well candidates and incumbents actually know the issues.  Let’s work together to neutralize the value of the useless “noise” we get at the end of any election season.

In fact, let’s end the concept of an “election season” altogether.  Get more and more people to pay attention and stay informed.  Get opponents to begin their run earlier so people can learn all they can about them, and so these opponents equally have as much time as possible to articulate their positions.  Encourage primaries, including in the incumbent’s party,  so we can make sure the best candidate runs.  Politicians should never have the comfort of feeling like they can ignore their constituents in the “off” year and suddenly pretend to pay attention to their concerns in an election year.  Hold the politicians’ feet to the fire at all times.  If they are truly serving the people, they should have nothing to worry about.