Media-saturated voters don't lack for information to make choices on Nov. 7.
Details are not lacking on, say, the pros and cons of greyhound racing (a ballot initiative in Massachusetts). Or the merits of local candidates for town dogcatcher. Or even the names of the presidential candidate's dogs (Daisy for Gore, Spot for Bush).
Rather, with a deluge of information on specific issues and candidates, voters often forget that the casting of a ballot helps clarify the collective values of society, whether it be local, state, or national.
To take sides in the voting booth is to help a community take stock of what it believes. That single civic act helps create a general civility. It roots our leaders in the core values of the majority. It fills potholes, hires teachers, and keeps enemies at bay - all as efficient ways to meet needs or build better futures.
But voting according to values isn't so simple anymore. Sophisticated candidates and special-interest groups have become clever at distorting or hiding facts, or appearing to embrace certain values. Hence, Al Gore exaggerates his past, while George W. Bush doesn't disclose an old arrest record. Voters may become more confused or apathetic as a result. That's why polls vary widely, why the number of undecideds is so high, why voter turnout may be less than 50 percent.
And, then too, problems seem more numerous, larger, and more complex, despite all the economic prosperity. Reaching a consensus for action has become more difficult over such issues as fixing Social Security or curbing media violence.
All this creates an easy temptation for voters to focus on just one or two issues - how a candidate may select Supreme Court judges or reduce drug prices - rather than look for deeper principles, such as fairness and honesty, that matter more over time.
Voting, like spending money or time, is a measure of what one values. It's an endorsement of one's principles with tangible results for others as well as one's self.
So, after sifting through all the campaign information - from unsolicited e-mail to a candidate's knock on the door to endorsements by many newspapers - the hard choice comes down to selecting one's most important values.
Even if candidates don't measure up for some reason or ballot questions fail on some score, voting can make a difference simply in choosing the best of uncertain choices. Voting goes beyond selecting a person or a course of action that will influence our lives. It's a chance to express our best qualities in hopes they will find a home in our leaders.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society