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Lots to know before casting a smart ballot

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Larry Lough is executive editor of Sauk Valley Media. Contact him via email at llough@saukvalley.com

If you’re like 99 percent of the voters in Lee and Whiteside counties, you did not attend either of two local political forums this week.

Sauk Valley Community College was host to a Monday forum for candidates from both counties; Whiteside County candidates were invited to a program Tuesday at Sterling High School.

Politicians were barely more interested than voters. Of the 35 candidates who had registered for the Monday meeting, not all showed up to try to impress a “crowd” estimated at fewer than two dozen. About 30 people turned out for Tuesday’s program.

When you consider that county board races in the two counties have a total of 65 candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot, you have to conclude one of two things:

1) The vast majority of people are not yet ready to start thinking about voting – or campaigning.

2) They are already sick of it.

OF COURSE, THERE is a third possible explanation: Maybe people already know who they’re going to vote for.

That’s unlikely, except maybe in the race for president, which doesn’t matter.

Oh, it matters in Ohio and Florida and a handful of other “swing” states that will determine the winner.

But Illinois is a reliably “blue” state that will support President Obama’s re-election effort.

You may disagree if you wish, but you shouldn’t be foolish enough to bet against it.

BUT BACK TO YOUR local races.

We suspect an informal survey would find a healthy mix of apathy and ignorance among potential voters.

Sure, they know about that big race at the top of the ballot.

But how many know what other seats in state and local government will be filled in the election barely 5 weeks from now?

The 2011 redistricting of congressional and state legislative district adds to the confusion. What districts are you in? Who are the candidates running to represent you?

Nobody said democracy was easy.

WHO DO YOU PLAN to vote for in the county recorder’s race?

How about circuit court clerk?

What do those people do, anyway?

Most potential voters would struggle with those questions because those government offices are pretty low profile.

OK, who are your preferred candidates for county board?

Those people deal with high-profile issues that affect life in our community: wind farms, planning and zoning, economic development, budget and taxation, among others.

And you will elect a state’s attorney, who is responsible for prosecuting crime and giving county officials – like county board members – sound legal advice and representation.

Also on the ballot is the county coroner – the last guy anybody wants to see.

This is government up close and personal.

If you’re not interested, you should be.

WHILE WE ARE quizzing your civics knowledge, try this one?

Which presidential hopeful received the most votes in the Republican primary election in Lee and Whiteside counties last March?

Here’s a hint: He is not on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Mitt Romney received about a third of the vote in each county to finish second in both to Rick Santorum, who won more than 50 percent of the GOP vote in Whiteside County and nearly 49 percent in Lee.

Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

SPEAKING OF THE presidential race, did you see the findings this week of an Yahoo!/Esquire poll?

It said two-thirds of Americans expect politicians to lie.

The respondents said they found Obama’s campaign to be dishonest – but not as dishonest as Romney’s.

Specifically, 42 percent said they believed the president’s ads stick to the truth, while only 30 percent said the same about Romney’s.

Of course, the reactions were based on television ads.

Which are every bit as real as “reality” TV.

GOOD NEWS IS, you still have plenty of time to arm yourself with good information before you vote.

And if you are reading this column, it’s a good bet that you’re a voter. Newspaper readers always are.

Over the next month, you’ll find lots of information about your choices on Nov. 6 (or sooner, if you’re an early voter).

We will soon post a voter’s guide on our website that will have profiles of local candidates and, in most cases, their stated positions on issues relevant to the offices they seek.

Throughout the weeks leading up to the election, we will report on the candidates’ activities and campaign events, as well as profile the key races.

Before Election Day, many candidates will be captured on video that will be posted on our website so you can see and hear from them without leaving the comforts of your home.

Be a good news consumer in the coming weeks, and you will be a good voter.

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