As a newly minted American citizen, next Tuesday is my first opportunity to vote in a national election and I’m extremely eager to cast my ballot. Indeed there is very little that could convince me not to exercise my new right. But as a working journalist, I also spend my professional life reading almost nonstop about the candidates. The result is that I’m an extremely well informed voter and, in my mind, that is just as important as going to the polls than my basic right to vote.
Recently, there have been numerous articles about potential vote fraud, especially questions surrounding efforts to register new voters in battleground states like Ohio. Has there been a concerted effort to “steal” the election by registering Mickey Mouse? Or are the activities of groups like ACORN to register millions of new voters, largely from underprivileged areas, a genuine effort to expand our democracy to as many citizens as possible?
Here’s another question: How much do the legitimate, newly registered voters know about the candidates? What about the ballot initiatives and referenda that may be on the ballot? Since these folks were solicited to register, have they spent a lot of time getting educated about this election?
So before going to the polls next Tuesday, I’d like to offer some advice: Don’t vote.
Don’t vote based on a rumor.
Don’t vote against Sen. Barack Obama because you’ve heard he’s a secret Muslim. He’s not. He’s a convert to Christianity (though it is true that most Muslims would still consider him a Muslim).
Don’t vote against the McCain/Palin ticket because you’ve read that Sarah Palin is an anti-Semite. She isn’t (though some people have disgustingly accused her otherwise). Indeed, the only other flag she had in her governor’s office besides the Stars and Stripes was a flag of Israel.
Don’t vote based on history.
Don’t vote for Republicans because you voted for Bush in 2004 or 2000. And don’t vote for the Democratic slate because you’ve always been a Democrat or your parents voted for Democrats. If you are a centrist-liberal, who has supported Democrats in the past, Obama may be too radical for you and if you are a staunch conservative McCain may seem to you too
Don’t vote based on race.
A vote for Obama solely because he’s African-American is just as prejudiced as voting against him because of his skin color. And voting for McCain just because you want to help elect the first woman vice president is just as vapid as voting against the GOP ticket because you don’t want a veep in a skirt.
The best reason to vote for anyone is because you are for their candidacy; because you support that person for the office for which he is running; because you think the candidate is best suited to do the job, and because he represents your issues and your views.
It is easy to get informed. Just go to the candidates’ Web site and look up their position on abortion, taxes, healthcare, Iraq, Israel; whatever issue is most important to you. Or make a list of your top three issues and rank them in order of importance.
McCain’s Web site is johnmccain.com and Obama’s is barackobama.com. Also, as senators, their respective voting records are also a good place to gather information. McCain has been a legislator for 30 years In Obama’s case take a look at how he voted while a state senator in Illinois (takes a bit of work using a Google search as his record is not available in a single place) as well as his record in the Senate. Do the same with congressional and state races in your district. Also, visit the campaign web sites of each opponent to get their views straight from the source.
Getting information strictly from your favorite newspaper or television program or web site only means you are getting your details filtered. Why does some commentator, editor, reporter, blogger or even columnist know better than you who would make the best president? Take the time to find out yourself, make up your own mind and then get out there on Tuesday and exercise your great, significant and serious responsibility to elect our government.
See you at the polls and may the best candidates prevail.
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)