Voter turnout usually declines significantly in off-year elections, but Big Bend residents are a bit more savvy about government and politics than their fellow Floridians need to be, so this is very much an “on” year for us.
The 2018 ballot will certainly offer a heaping helping of candidates and issues, from one statewide race that may well decide which party controls the U.S. Senate to three posts on the Community Development District board. Big or small, hotly contested or hardly noticed, the offices and referendum items on the ballot are important and deserve everyone’s attention.
In addition to the statewide races and congressional contests, there will likely be more constitutional amendments on the ballot than at any point in the last decade. Tallahassee and Leon County voters will vote on:
- Three county judgeships
- Two county commission seats
- A school board post
- A new mayor and two city commissioners
Politicians and their parties like to tell us we have a civic duty to cast our ballots, and that’s true. But more important, we have a civic responsibility to vote intelligently – to know not only who we’re voting for, or whether they’re liberal or conservative, but why we want these people in office, or defeated, and what these referendum issues will mean if they pass.
That’s a little harder, but well worth the effort. Higher voter turnout doesn’t mean better government, but more informed people voting does.
It starts with registration. The primaries are on Aug. 28 and the general election is Nov. 6, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from making sure their registration is in order now. Don’t wait until the voter rolls close, a month before those dates, and then claim your vote has been suppressed. You’ve got five months to make sure you’re properly signed up.
And there’s no shortage of help. The Supervisor of Elections office will be happy to handle your registration, if you’ve just turned 18 or you’ve moved or need help for any other reason. The political parties and the candidates, along with civic organizations, will be conducting voter registration drives. There’s really no reason for not signing up.
You can be a Democrat or Republican, like most people, or pick one of the several splinter parties out there. Or you can be a “no-party affiliate,” the rapidly growing bloc of voters who want “none of the above.” Be aware, though, that only Democrats and Republicans can vote in primaries for partisan races.
Then, once you’re an official, legal, registered, bona fide voter, it’s up to you to educate yourself about the candidates and the issues.
You don’t really have to – you can vote for anybody, or anything, for any reason – but it helps if we have informed voters. That requires some initiative by the voters, drawing information from as many sources as possible.
This newspaper doesn’t make editorial endorsements any more. But we’ll be devoting a lot of time and labor, between now and November, to telling you about the issues and people of politics. We’ll also be bringing back our popular candidate forums, which we streamed live online. We hope you’ll follow our coverage, but we also hope we’re just one major source of your information. It’s best to read, hear and see many diversified information sources – television, radio, stuff on the internet, candidate forum events, even personal contacts when candidates go door to door.
While gathering information from as many sources as possible, it’s important to consider each source. Any internet barrage, TV commercials or leaflets mailed to you by the candidates and political parties, or by nice-sounding but non-existent groups like “Floridians for Good Stuff,” should be taken with a whole heap of salt. First of all, you don’t know who that campaign committee is – it could be the insurance industry or the auto dealers or the dentists or the trial lawyers.
All you can really be sure of is, it’s worth thousands and thousands of dollars to somebody to tell you this candidate is a dangerous liberal lunatic and this other one is the greatest leader since Lincoln. The important questions for recipients should not be, “Are the allegations in this advertisement true?” but rather, “Who are you and why are you spending so much money to get me to think this way about a candidate or issue?”
Everyone says they hate negative campaigning, but it works. Everyone says they want to hear about solutions, instead of attacks, but we reward the candidate who can raise the most money from special interests and do the best job of smearing the opposition. Everyone says voting is a sacred duty that many Americans have died for, but how diligently do we update our registration status?
And everyone says they want better government but do we really find out who’s the most talented candidate – rather than the ones from our party, who look like us or tell us things that appeal to our liberal or conservative impulses.
If voters – all of us – quit being motivated by name-calling and reckless distortion of a candidate’s record or statements, if we look at what our legislators are actually doing in session now, not what they claim in mass mailings and TV hit pieces next summer, we might actually get the change we claim to want so badly.
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