Ken Hare In Depth: Voting is just the start of fulfilling your c - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Ken Hare In Depth: Voting is just the start of fulfilling your civic duty

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

I was glancing through a catalog this past weekend that sold t-shirts with supposedly pithy sayings on them. One caught my eye: "If we quit voting, will they all go away?"

After being barraged for months now by mudslinging political ads, that sentiment probably has some appeal to many Alabamians. There is no way you can avoid being turned off to some degree by all that negativity and therefore it's natural to wish that all politicians would just go away.

But responding to the negative nature of politics by not participating in the electoral process is not an answer to anything. Voting still remains a sacred trust in our democracy, and that is true for the party primary elections on Tuesday.

However, don't kid yourself if you believe that going to the polls next week and casting a ballot comes close to fulfilling your obligation as a citizen. Your responsibility isn't just to vote -- your real responsibility is to cast an informed ballot.  

Voting is like showing up to take a test. You cannot pass the test without showing up; that's essential.  But if you want a good grade on that test -- if you want good public officials in office -- you need to do your homework beforehand.

That homework is not just watching political ads, especially in recent years. Many of them are simply attacks on the other guy, and more often than not those attacks are based on half-truths, oversimplification of positions on complicated issues, statements taken out of context, and occasionally, even outright lies. (Besides, if you based your decisions just on political ads, you'd think most politicians in Alabama were running against President Obama.)

But for those voters who take their civic responsibility seriously, help is out there. The news media has covered the campaign for those voters who have been paying attention. But even for those who haven't been paying attention, it's not too late to do your homework -- thanks to the Internet.

Most news outlets compile their election coverage online. WSFA has an excellent site, you can find it by clicking here, or by going to wsfa.com and clicking on the Decision 2014 logo near the center of the page.

On the page you will find links to videos of news coverage of political races and of interviews with candidates. There also are news stories you can read about various races, as well as information on the state's voter identification requirements.

You also can find copies of sample ballots for both the Democratic and Republican primaries for all counties in WSFA's viewing area. Reviewing these ahead of time can help speed the process on election day.

Other helpful sites for the discerning voter include those of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, the Alabama Secretary of State, and -- for voters who want to follow the money -- the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act site, which lists campaign donations for candidates.  

As an independent voter who takes pride in not being associated with either political party, I find sample ballots especially helpful in primary elections. They help me to decide whether I will ask for a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot when I go to the polls. I choose the ballot that I believe allows me to have the most positive impact on the election outcome.

No matter whether you vote Republican or Democrat on Tuesday, it's important that you vote. But it's just as important that you do your homework ahead of time so you can cast an informed ballot.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT WEEK

Unless you have a perverse streak and just happen to like attack ads, this has not been a particularly interesting political campaign season so far. The race for governor usually captures most of the attention, but Gov. Robert Bentley is almost certainly going to win big on Tuesday against two lesser known challengers, which makes that race ho-hum.

But there still are a few things worth looking for as the results start coming in Tuesday night.

I expect that many of the races, like the governor's race, will be runaways, which isn't unusual for primary elections. But there might be a few close races.

Among them is the secretary of state campaign, which pits three current or former elected officials seeking an office in which there is no incumbent.  State Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa has raised more funds, but he is challenged by Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue and former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney. Perdue and McKinney are emphasizing their experience as chief election officials at the county level in seeking the office that fills that role at the state level.

It also will be interesting Tuesday evening to see the impact that the Alabama Education Association's spending will have in the Republican primary.

Traditionally the AEA has focused on funding Democratic candidates, but that is changing as Democrats have become essentially non-players in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

This year the AEA is sinking big bucks into the campaigns of about a dozen candidates running against mostly incumbent Republicans in the Legislature, as the teachers' organization tries to regain a foothold in the body it dominated for so long when the Democrats were in power.

Locally, one race to watch pits Montgomery City Councilman Tracy Larkin against incumbent  state Rep. Thad McClammy. The veteran McClammy usually wins re-election handily, but Larkin is a well-known challenger who should not be taken lightly.

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Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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