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

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - I was glancing through acatalog this past weekend that sold t-shirts with supposedly pithy sayings onthem. One caught my eye: "If we quit voting, will they all go away?"

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

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

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

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

That homework is notjust watching political ads, especially in recent years. Many of them aresimply attacks on the other guy, and more often than not those attacks arebased 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 mostpoliticians in Alabama were running against President Obama.)

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

Most news outletscompile their election coverage online. WSFA has an excellent site, you canfind it by clicking here,or by going to wsfa.com and clicking on the Decision 2014 logo near the centerof the page.

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

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

Other helpful sites forthe 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 donationsfor candidates.

As an independent voterwho takes pride in not being associated with either political party, I findsample ballots especially helpful in primary elections. They help me to decidewhether I will ask for a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot when I go to thepolls. I choose the ballot that I believe allows me to have the most positiveimpact on the election outcome.

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

WHATTO LOOK FOR NEXT WEEK

Unless you have aperverse streak and just happen to like attack ads, this has not been aparticularly interesting political campaign season so far. The race forgovernor usually captures most of the attention, but Gov. Robert Bentley isalmost certainly going to win big on Tuesday against two lesser knownchallengers, which makes that race ho-hum.

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

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

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

It also will beinteresting Tuesday evening to see the impact that the Alabama EducationAssociation's spending will have in the Republican primary.

Traditionally the AEAhas focused on funding Democratic candidates, but that is changing as Democratshave become essentially non-players in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

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

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

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

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