Become a well-informed voter
The 2008 presidential election is just one month away. Are you ready for it?
I know some people are not. In fact, I am one of them.
When my kids recently asked me for whom I am going to vote for president, I had to say, "I am not really sure."
The truth is, I have not done much research and reading about the candidates.
Lack of time, lack of political knowledge or lack of interest in politics can all be my excuses, but I know one excuse I cannot use is lack of information.
There is a huge quantity of information available on the Internet that can help people become well-informed voters.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. I consider the Internet to be one of the greatest inventions in human history, something that has changed every aspect of our lives, including elections.
It has made it so much easier for voters to be fully informed about who the candidates are and where they stand on different issues.
But the Internet is also the world's largest rumor mill and there can be a lot of misinformation out there as well.
Have you ever forwarded an e-mail message a friend sent you, only to find out later that it contains inaccurate information?
I have done that -- I unintentionally participated in the spreading of misinformation through forwarding interesting messages or chain letters.
Most times it is harmless. Occasionally, it can be a little embarrassing.
A friend of mine has the habit of checking forwarded messages at Snopes.com [www.snopes.com], a definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.
I learned from her that forwarded messages or chain letters often contain misinformation. So, be careful what you read.
While you can find information on virtually anything on the Internet, there is no guarantee that the information is accurate. Therefore it is also important to look for information that is published by a legitimate source to ensure that the information is authentic and credible.
As responsible citizens, we have the obligation to become informed before we vote.
We cannot base our decision on rumors, misinformation, or on candidates' TV commercials.
Now we are facing an overload of candidate information.
How can we sift through the massive amounts of information and find the credible sources and sites to make the research process easier?
I hope the following sites will be helpful in your research on the candidates.
To get information straight from the major candidates and their parties, you can start with their official websites.
The Democratic Party:
The Republican Party:
Project Vote Smart (www.votesmart.org) provides comprehensive information about candidates, from biographical information, voting records, issue positions, public statements to campaign financing.
Politicians are good public speakers. They will say things to get elected. But what they say may not match what they have done in the past.
Project Vote Smart provides access to congressional and state voting records. You can pull up the voting records of the candidates and find out what and how they voted on key issues in the past.
At the state level, you can also go to the Legislative Reference Library website (www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/issues/ratings.asp) to find Minnesota legislator voting records and ratings and to see how current legislators voted in the past.
Brookings Institution (www.brookings.edu/projects/opportunity08/Candidate-Views.aspx) offers a series of charts outlining the candidates' positions on the most critical topics facing America's next President.
Federal Election Commission (www.fec.gov) lists campaign finance reports and data that have candidates' statements of income and information about campaign contributors.
In Minnesota, all state candidates must file with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (www. cfboard.state.mn.us) regarding campaign contributions.
On Minnesota Public Radio's "Select a Candidate" Internet site (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/ongoing/select_a_candidate), you can learn which candidates are most closely aligned with your views by answering a series of questions about major issues.
On the official U.S. Congress website (www. congress.org/election/home/), you can easily find your federal, state, and local officials by entering your ZIP code.
The site provides comprehensive information about elections and provides key candidate positions. It also has legislative voting history.
On the Issues (www.ontheissues.org) ranks candidates on a variety of issues.
OpenSecrets.org (www.OpenSecrets.org) from the Center for Responsive Politics is the nonpartisan guide to money's influence on U.S. elections and public policy. It has fundraising profiles for candidates and congressional members.
Politifact.com (http:// politifact.com) analyzes candidates' speeches, TV ads and interviews to determine whether their claims are accurate.
Spinsanity (www.spinsanity.org) is a nonpartisan watchdog dedicated to unspinning misleading claims from politicians, pundits and the press.
The bottom line is, do not believe everything you read or hear in the media. Do some research and become a well-informed voter.
Then you will have the confidence that you cast you vote in a responsible and informed way.