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Published November 05 2012

Forum editorial: Vote, but please be informed

The fashionable (and some say patriotic) admonition on Election Day is to urge Americans to vote. Overall, that’s a good thing, and voters in North Dakota and Minnesota often lead the nation in the percentage of eligible voters who go to the polls. It is likely the tradition will be repeated today.

But as we have said during previous election cycles, it’s far more important to cast an informed vote, rather than merely voting because voting is good citizenship. How can it be good citizenship to cast an uninformed vote? How can it be good citizenship to vote the party line when it’s been obvious for decades that party alone is not a guarantee of competent candidates or good government?

A voter cannot become informed without work. It requires an open mind. It requires the ability to discern between partisan boilerplate and the nuances of public policy. It requires digging into candidates’ motivations, not just swallowing a proclamation of a “desire to serve.”

The task is more challenging than it once was. The fog of political advertising on television is designed to confuse and manipulate. Unprecedented expenditures by organizations that don’t have to reveal sources of their money have changed the way campaigns are conducted. When it’s all toted up, it is likely that those secret, unaccountable organizations will have spent more money than the individual campaigns.

For their part, many candidates tend to duck real debates. The debates they do accept are so stilted and staged they degenerate into tiresome recitations of political playbooks. There is a lot of good print and broadcast reporting, but political “news” tends to be distorted by rehearsed news conferences and talk radio hosts who have sold their souls to one campaign or another.

A smart voter has a lot of work to do to know what is going on. That means taking full advantage of everything that’s out there, and then sifting the wheat (serious reporting and candidates’ records) from the chaff (talk radio babble and campaign-managed debates).

Which leads to the heresy of heresies: Stay home today if you have not taken time to inform yourself. Stay home if the only criterion that drives your vote is party loyalty. Stay home if you have depended only on the practiced idiocy of talk radio, or only on a newspaper editorial endorsement, or only on a nasty political mailer, or only on a TV ad that strokes your partisan bias.

The voting booth is no place for the welcome mat to say “no thinking allowed.”

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum

management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.