In Our View: Information is Power

Democracy depends on voters educating selves on issues, then turning in ballots

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We have reached that time of year when the narrative is predictable and unavoidable. With an election drawing near — ballots are due Tuesday — there is certain to be much discussion and hand-wringing about voter apathy and low turnout rates.

Because this is an off-year election with no federal offices up for grabs, turnout is expected to be relatively small. In 2011, the last off-year general election, just under 50 percent of registered Clark County voters participated. Three months ago, in the primary for this week’s general election, the turnout was about 19.5 percent. Those numbers would seem to run counter to the foundation of the United States.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right vote except the American people themselves,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

Such a notion leads to frequent teeth-gnashing on the part of the intelligentsia. The idea is that it is important for citizens to vote, to have a say, to make their voices heard. As was written in the Federalist Papers, it is “essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people” — and that common interest is most effectively forged through the act of voting.

But there is something more important to democracy and to the future of our nation, our state, our county than the act of voting. That is the act of informed voting.

Rather than marking the ballot for a familiar name, or for a candidate who makes the best promises and the best TV commercials, or for a ballot measure that on the surface sounds like a brilliant idea, a little bit of research should be required. Knowledge is power, it has been said, and that is particularly true at election time. Many an electorate has been duped over the years because it didn’t pay close enough attention to what was going on behind the curtain.

“A vote is like a rifle,” Teddy Roosevelt said. “Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

The Voters’ Pamphlet offers some information about each item on the ballot, and much more is available through the wonders of the Internet. Coverage from The Columbian, along with the paper’s endorsements, can be found at www.columbian.com/news/politics/election.

While endorsements have been made with much deliberation, they are merely suggestions. We trust voters to be informed and to make up their own minds. But in order to help foment discussion, here is a recap of our picks:

• Vancouver mayor: Tim Leavitt.

• Vancouver city council: Jack Burkman for Position 1; Alishia Topper for Position 2; Anne McEnerny-Ogle for Position 3.

• Vancouver school board: Kathy Gillespie.

• Statewide Initiative 517: No.

• Statewide Initiative 522: No.

• Clark County advisory votes involving transportation: No.

• Clark County advisory vote involving fireworks: Yes.

Many a marketing campaign over the years has been designed to get people to vote, as if sheer numbers of ballots reflect the importance of an election. But while having citizens participate — and feel as though participation is a crucial part of that citizenry — we’d like to suggest a new style of marketing campaign: One that urges the people to be informed before they vote.