Editorial: Be an educated voter and build a better government

Decorations, Christmas shopping, and planning for the March 20 primary election.

The thought of gearing up for months of candidate mailers and appearances seems at odds with holiday festivities, but the campaign season got under way officially on Monday when petition filing closed and hopefuls reserved spots on party ballots for federal, state and county races. The primary will set the stage for the November general election.

What that means is the candidates have taken the first step in the election process. Soon, it will be up to you, the voters, to get involved.

What that should underscore to all of us who care about issues in Washington, Springfield and the county where we live is the gravity of our choices. Every vote counts. You don't have to look further than the many close races - some decided by razor-thin margins - at all levels of the ballot a year ago.

What counts even more than simply casting a vote is casting an educated vote. Rather than based on a political party, a label or an ideology, an educated vote is the chance to elect statesmen who will thoughtfully represent us in deciding serious issues. That takes some effort.

In the coming weeks, candidates may stop by your house or send brochures through the mail. There will be television and radio ads. Candidates will likely reach out to you by email, websites and through social media in hopes of winning your support with a catchy sound bite or a few talking points.

Much more is needed to be a truly educated voter. During this campaign and the one that follows in November, we urge you to be engaged by attending forums to see candidates in action, and by searching out and comparing details and positions on important and complex issues. Do your homework as you would for any major purchase. For, just as making a bad decision on a car could result in overpaying as well as years of disappointment, an uninformed decision in the voter's booth carries risk.

Risk of a worsening mess in Springfield, where three years without an approved budget led to a big tax increase and a backlog of unpaid bills.

Risk of more bitter partisan politics in Washington driving discussion of important life-changing issues, such as taxes, health care and immigration.

Risk that property taxes continue to rise, threatening the ability of many to stay in their homes.

We pledge to help. We are building an online database that will include personal information on candidates and their responses to questionnaires. Our election coverage online and in print will focus on the candidates - their backgrounds, experiences and ideas for solving tough problems.

Finding the best one is never easy, but there is a payoff to making informed decisions about the people who representative us. It's the first step in building better government.

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