Sunday Issue: Election 2014

Learn, think, vote

The Editorial Board’s Opinion

After the months of amped-up noise, swirling lights and gyrations inside the inescapable disco that is modern-day election season, it will be a tranquil relief to step into the quiet serenity of polling places Tuesday.
There, with a ballot before us, important work silently beckons. There are important choices to be made on candidates and issues alike. Let us, in large numbers, make them, using clear-headed thinking to guide our way.
Like rivulets that join to become streams and eventually rivers, each voter’s choices meld into a powerful whole that really is greater than the raw sum of its parts. That’s part of the genius of America and its governance.
The results of the Nov. 4 elections hold potential to significantly affect our future path in the Atlanta metro, Georgia and this great nation.
And most of us, even in today’s partisan times, might somehow agree that we’ve rarely been more in need of a North Star of sorts that can focus our widely diverging interests and help guide us toward a higher place. Yet that visual is pretty cloudy these days, given that the divisive sabers of our competing factions are as sharp as ever.
The relentless attacks, endless parsing of the minutest of minutia, flipping of scripts and general flailing about in mudpits has convinced many that, at best, the near-sacred ritual of voting can accomplish little more than, just maybe, deciding among the least-harmful of competing evils.
Add in the sort of corruption and allegations of malfeasance that’re routinely uncovered in the pages of this newspaper and it’s hard not to despair of it all at times.
Yet, we humbly suggest crating up that defeatist view and setting it on a high shelf — at least until after you’ve voted.
It’s better in our view to spend the short time  before the election on a personal campaign of broad research into candidates and issues.
Voters fortified with unbiased knowledge remain irreplaceable linchpins in a system of government whose basic soundness has yet to be surpassed in human history.
So do your own research, rather than passively letting campaign marketers herd you toward their desired result. Study sources you both agree with, and dispute. Compare the differences. Consult bipartisan sources such as the AJCePaper’s Election Extra and the Voter Guide of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
Reach your own conclusions and then stress-test your thinking to see if any logical cracks appear. Then follow your mind; listen to that quiet, inner voice. If you’re a believer, pray for guidance and clarity. Yield to higher instincts and values, rather than seductively attractive baser motivations. You know the difference in your heart.
Ponder whether honestly felt, sincere differences between people and various groups should yield mutual disdain, or even contempt of the kind that political campaigns too often build on today. We think not.
Look around at friends, neighbors, co-workers, and people who may smile back at you at the mall or in a house of worship. Are they really that different, even if they stand across a political aisle from you? Are they bad people? Honestly now?
The answer to these questions will doubtless play a role in what results materialize after the polls close next Tuesday. We’d humbly suggest believing that we truly are all in this together.
This idea may sound radical in today’s riven age, but it is a long ways from new. George Washington spoke of it in his 1796 farewell address.
He said that, “The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize.” Washington added that, “much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed … .” Washington wisely suggested “indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest … .”
We cannot further enhance the truth of his words. A strength of America is our simultaneous devotion to both a common civic purpose and the powerful individualism that undergirds and enhances it. That the two somehow work in concert, and not in conflict, speaks soundly to the efficacy of our society.
Voting is a powerful way of working toward those ideals. So, fully armed with the strength of knowledgeable conviction, please take to the polls on Tuesday.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.


Are you on the hiring committee?

By Elizabeth Poythress

Benjamin Franklin was asked at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 what kind of government the delegates had created. He answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Most people in Europe and around the world thought America’s experiment in self-government would fail. It put too much power in the hands of the people, they thought. Franklin, himself, seems to have had questions about whether the people we now call Americans could succeed in such an ambitious experiment. But over the years, the American people’s fierce independence and commitment to the public good have proved the doubters wrong.
We cannot, however, take for granted the continued success of America and the electoral process. The foundation of our self -government is “we, the people” — that is, an informed, politically engaged population. As Americans, voting is not only our right; it is our duty, if we are to keep our form of self-government. It is our fundamental duty as Americans to learn about the candidates and the issues, and then cast our votes according to our best judgment as citizens of a free country.
The election this year will determine the future path of our country and impact the lives of every single one of us. It will bring about changes for Georgia and America. You can help decide what those changes will be and who will lead them by casting your vote on Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Now is the time for all Georgia voters — before casting our votes — to familiarize ourselves with the candidates, the offices they are seeking, and the issues in the races. So where do we go to find this information? Detailed information about the candidates and voting can be found at — “My Vote Counts” Voter Information.
Candidates throughout Georgia are asking, even begging, for a shot at the job of representing you in our representative government. The decisions these elected officials will make in office will impact our state and lives for years to come. And guess what? If you are a registered voter, you are on the hiring committee and can have a voice in who gets the jobs by casting your vote!
It is important that you have an Election Day game plan and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Make the commitment to vote and be prepared. Plan on when you will vote, where you will vote, who will get your vote, and how you will vote on the ballot questions.
As American citizens, it is our responsibility and civic duty to vote. It is a duty that was bestowed upon you by our forefathers and foremothers, to maintain our representative form of government — our republic. Make the commitment today to use your power of the vote. See you at the polls!
You can report any problems at the polls to 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

Elizabeth Poythress is president, League of Women Voters of Georgia.


Can voters reliably make informed decisions?

By Shawn McCoy

We implicitly trust that voters are prepared to make informed decisions . But is this faith well-founded?
While we can hope those who don’t know the name of the vice president are outliers on tests of political knowledge, a new survey released last month shows they are not alone in needing remedial civics lessons. The study, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, found that more than one-third of respondents could not name a single branch of government. And  most Americans don’t know which party controls either the House or the Senate.
Just imagine how little many voters know about economic policy, the minimum wage, immigration reform, healthcare, and terrorism.  These are the issues being considered by voters as they enter their polling place, but their knowledge base is   low.
Shouldn’t voters want to know more about  politicians and policies ?
Ilya Somin, a Professor at George Mason University School of Law , says  voter ignorance is rational because the chance that an individual voter impacts the election is very small. Rather than spend time studying the candidates, it makes sense to do something either more profitable or fun.
Just as sports fans allow their emotions to overcome rational analysis of a penalty against their team, political fans overvalue information that supports their preexisting views. Even when receiving unbiased information, it too is often evaluated incorrectly because of partisanship. One recent study showed that among mathematically skilled participants, the wrong conclusion was often drawn if data presented disagreed with their personal views.
Voters identify shortcuts to political knowledge. One of these is retrospective voting. This is why it has proven a potent message to ask voters, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” But while this question is useful for politicians, voters’ cognitive biases get in the way of an accurate answer. Research shows that when a Democrat is in the White House, Republicans tend to overestimate the rate of inflation and unemployment. Democrats underestimate. And vice versa.
To some extent, voters can rely on their alignment with a political party to know how they would likely vote if they fully researched the issues. Somin points out, however, that voters tend to base these views on the intended result, but widespread ignorance of basic economics means that voters probably can’t evaluate whether their party’s policies can deliver.
Voters don’t always get it right, and unfortunately, the complexity of modern government exacerbates this problem. Voter ignorance is a troubling quirk of democracy. But our founders knew these pitfalls, and they designed a republic that still stands over 200 years later.

Shawn McCoy is publisher of and a former spokesman for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

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