Editor's notes

There are two things that just get me fried about election season: voter apathy and voter ignorance.

Apathy, of course, is when people either don't care about voting because they believe (erroneously) their individual votes don't count in the big scheme of things, or they just have more interest in the latest episode of 'Lost' than they do in getting out a pen and filling out the ballot from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy. I mean, come on, it's vote by mail, people! How much easier can we make it?

Then there's voter ignorance. Here, somebody's taken the time to fill out that voter registration card and has even reserved time in between episodes of 'Must See TV' to cast his or her ballot. But the problem is, when they do vote, they do so in a way that's A) uninformed, B) lackadaisical or C) both.

The best example of voter ignorance is the stranglehold the two-party system has on our country and state.

A growing segment of Oregon voters are finding that they cannot identify themselves with Democrats, Republicans or any affiliated party. But when push comes to shove, many of these courageous, independent thinkers return to politics as usual when they cast their ballots because they believe their ignorant friends, family members and the own little voice their heads that say, 'You're wasting your vote if you don't vote Democrat or Republican.'

I faced such scrutiny in the 2004 presidential election. I voted for a candidate in one of the so-called 'minor' or 'third' parties - I won't tell you which one - and I couldn't have been more proud. When loved ones would hear of my decision, they'd say, 'Why even vote? You wasted it!' or they'd accuse me of helping a major party candidate from the other side of the political spectrum.

I'd simply say, 'No, I voted for my candidate. You wasted your vote because you didn't vote your conscience; you voted your fears.'

At church this weekend there were free 'family friendly' voter's guides available. Although the pamphlet didn't endorse candidates, it purported to narrow the race significantly by not including third-party candidates. Now, one might argue that some third-party candidates have more 'family friendly' policies (depending on your view) than the mainline parties, but if a candidate didn't have an R or a D next to his name, he wasn't in the guide.

In fine print, the voter's guide even articulated that it wouldn't give information on candidates representing 'minor' parties.

When did we stop considering ideas and start assigning candidates worth by their party? There are some talented, knowledgeable and well-qualified candidates on the ballot this election in the governor's race, but all we'll hear about is Ted Kulongoski and Ron Saxton.

Richard Morley of the Libertarian Party has run three corporations and was a government auditor for much of his career. Mary Starrett is a well-known ex-talk show host who is running with the conservative Constitution Party. Former Army Captain Joe Keating of the Green Party was station manager for KBOO radio and was the director for Oregon Greenpeace.

This two-party stranglehold kept State Sen. Ben Westlund from his independent run and tried to kick Starrett out of the race.

It also keeps Oregonians from getting a real, fair debate with multiple candidates. No, instead, we live in a quasi-democracy where we're always picking between two shades of the same color.

What's the answer? Maybe we need to abolish parties, so we'll have no choice but to concentrate on the person, not the party. Maybe we need to pass laws that require candidates from all parties to be part of debates. Or maybe we need an electorate that's more willing to learn about all the candidates with an open mind to discover that there are more than just two choices out there.

The third-party candidates might not be what voters are looking for, but I think voters ought to make that decision after hearing what they have to say, not before.

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