A friend of mine posted a humorous comment on his Facebook page the other day promising never to write anything again while under the influence of political campaigns. His simple post made me realize how much I’ve been avoiding the entire topic and media circus surrounding the coming Election Day. But with a little less than two months left, I know it’s time to get my act together. What’s the best way to organize myself so that I come up to speed quickly on the issues and candidates and select a candidate in time to vote?
Yes, it’s officially election season. Don’t despair if you haven’t been watching the conventions intently or following every campaign detail in the papers. You’re not the only one. The important thing is not to keep your head buried in the sand as the candidates sprint to the November 4th deadline. This is an historic race; there is no better year than this one to participate in the great American experiment. That means knowing the issues, understand the candidates’ backgrounds and their voting records. Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’ve got a schedule that’s jam packed from 6am to midnight. The good news: you can come up the curve pretty quickly in this digital age.
* First Things First: Are You Registered to Vote?
You can’t vote on November 4th unless you are registered. If you’re not sure you’re registered, then please take two seconds and visit Smart Voter . Click on the link titled “How do I know whether I am registered to vote?” and it will ask you to key in your zip code. In about two more clicks of a mouse button, you’ll have the answer. If you find that you are not registered, simply go to Rock the Vote . Their widget enables you to fill out a voter registration form online and print out a ready-to-send version complete with the mailing address of your state’s Secretary of State. Please note that North Dakota, New Hampshire and Wyoming don't accept the National Voter Registration Application form. If you live in one of these states, contact your Secretary of State's office, which is easy to do since all the contact information is accessible online.
* Next: Don’t Get Paralyzed by Perfectionism
Yes, choosing between two imperfect options can be difficult – but if you hold out for perfection, you’re guaranteed to remain disenfranchised forever. Nobody is without flaws. Take the bad with the good and pick the person who is clearly the best available, warts and all.
* Then: Focus on What Really Matters to You
Very few people have the bandwidth to chart each candidate’s policies in detail. Put the 80/20 rule to work and focus first on those issues that really matter to you. In this digital age, it only takes but a few clicks to access a treasure trove of information about any of the issues at hand in this election. USA Today's politics page  allows you to see the issues and opinions of each candidate in simple and straightforward terms. You’ll find the most important issues on the running table from Iraq to Energy as well as get the stances of McCain and Obama. Another excellent source for information can be found in the Politics section of CNN.com . And finally, the websites for each candidate are must-reads. Focus on your hot-button issues first, whether it’s the economy, healthcare, taxes or something else. And then, if and only if you have time, move on to other topics.
* Finally: Enlist the Help of Your Family
If you have children, take this opportunity to explain the importance of voting, the election process, and then enlist their help in researching the positions of each candidate. They are the future of the country, so what better time to start teaching them about the role that normal individuals play in this vibrant democracy than right now? Pick a date at the beginning of October for a “public forum” with your family, where your children can compare and contrast the candidates’ positions on various issues and make a formal recommendation.