Do your research on candidates, regardless of party

Election season is a good time to explore the pros and cons of some policy issues concerning elections that seem to come up on an annual basis.

First, let’s look at the issue of straight-ticket voting that was debated in this session of the General Assembly.

Usually, this issue is looked at from the perspective of which party will benefit the most. In Hancock County, the general conclusion is that having the ability to vote a straight ticket by marking only one oval on the ballot benefits the Republican Party, which is generally dominant in our county.

Go one county to the north, Madison County, or to the west, Marion County, and you will see the opposite — Democrats benefit the most.

If you are an elected official, your views on this issue probably reflect whether straight-ticket voting hurts or helps you the most. If you are a candidate who runs in multiple counties, your position might not be so clear.

I’ve generally been mostly neutral on this, but as I have stepped away from an active political life, I’m seeing a broader perspective on many issues.

The comments I have received as I have asked voters their thoughts on this vary across the spectrum.

As you would expect, party activists and ideologues much prefer straight-ticket voting.

There is a group of voters that I had not considered with respect to this issue until it was pointed out to me — those senior citizens who are the party faithful but in their declining years find it a far less confusing way to cast their vote and to make sure it is counted for the party of their choice.

Then there is the largest group of voters, those who like straight-ticket voting. These are the people who just say it’s easier, the people who don’t like the party in power and are just voting against it more than they are voting for the other party.

What’s wrong with doing a little research on those running for office? Many candidates who are on the ballot, if elected, will make decisions concerning the way you make your livelihood. They may raise or lower your taxes. They may be the people that protect you from crime or put criminals behind bars.

Isn’t learning more about these candidates’ backgrounds and their position on issues worth a little of your time?

Research isn’t that hard to do in this age of technology. Local newspapers usually carry information on local races, and the larger papers cover state and federal candidates.

Granted, some papers are often slanted to a more liberal perspective, but it’s easy to get beyond that bias.

Your computer is a great tool, and the possibilities for research on candidates are unlimited.

If you don’t have a computer, go to the library. The Hancock County Public Library has more than 100 computers for public use. There is staff that will help you get started.

Pay attention to a candidate’s literature. It can tell you a lot. Are the issues that are important to them superficial or legitimate? Do they have a well-thought-out approach to addressing the issues?

Beware if they just state the issue and don’t offer solutions.

What is their background? Do they have a background that qualifies them for the job? Many people have great résumés but are not qualified to hold the office they seek.

Most candidates will have websites and links that will direct you to more information. If they don’t, you should question why.

These are just a few tips for becoming an informed voter.

One casualty of straight-ticket voting is the independent candidate. Take the 2012 general election as an example. There were three candidates on the ballot for coroner — one Democrat, Crystel Myers, and two independents, Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner.

Both Devoy and Fortner had extensive experience in the field. Myers had no experience.

In that general election, there were 8,021 straight-ticket Republican voters and 3,234 straight-ticket Democrat voters. Myers, the Democrat, won with 10,120 votes. Collectively, the two independent candidates had 14,589 votes.

Clearly, the majority of voters wanted someone other than Myers for coroner. She received about 42 percent of the vote. Straight-ticket voting probably paid a big role in her victory.

Because there was no Republican candidate, those who voted a straight Republican ticket did not register a vote for coroner.

It is possible to “scratch” on individual races, but few do for a variety of reasons.

If you are a minor party candidate, an independent candidate or even someone who wants to elect candidates running on these tickets, straight-party voting is your foe.

Becoming an informed voter is critical to preserving our way of life and our freedom.

If repealing straight-ticket voting will help with that, let’s do it.

Beverly Gard served 24 years in the Indiana Senate before retiring in 2012. She is a Hancock County resident.