EDITORIAL: Begin preparing now to cast informed votes in presidential election

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Just over a month from now, voters will choose the person who will fill the top governing seat in our country for the next four years. Actually, absentee voting has already begun.

This year’s presidential election seems more divisive than most — and that is a telling statement, considering the heated politics voters have been subjected to during the last several presidential election campaigns.

While it’s not unusual for voters to be dissatisfied with the Republican and Democratic candidates running for the top office in the land, it seems an unusually large segment of the population feels neither of this year’s candidates is someone they would choose for the office of U.S. president.

While many voters support one candidate or the other, Hillary is seen by some as untrustworthy, while some — often the same people — view Trump as a tyrant.

But Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are our only choices, right?

Wrong.

This year, four other candidates for president will be on Wyoming’s ballot: Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Darrell Lane Castle (Constitution), Roque De La Fuente (an independent) and Jill Stein (the Green Party nominee, also running as an independent).

Of those, however, only two — Stein and Johnson — are listed in addition to Trump and Clinton as presidential candidates on BallotPedia, which bills itself as the online Encyclopedia of American Politics. That is because they each were nominated for the presidency by their party and each has been featured in at least three major national polls.

Johnson has experience in government leadership, having served two terms as governor of New Mexico, from 1995 to 2003. He was elected as a Republican and switched to the Libertarian Party in 2011.

Johnson’s running mate, Bill Weld, served two terms as the Republican governor of Massachusetts.

Stein has run several unsuccessful campaigns for office in Massachusetts (state representative in 2004, secretary of the commonwealth in 2006, and governor in 2002 and 2010). She also previously ran for president in 2012.

Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, serves on boards for several human rights organizations and was the founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network.

Supporters of both Clinton and Trump discourage voters from choosing a third-party candidate, as both groups see a vote for someone else as a vote that ultimately will benefit the other mainstream candidate (Trump or Clinton).

But, in a year when so many people say they are considering not voting for president this year, it would seem to be better for them to cast a vote for a third-candidate party than to not vote at all.

Let’s look beyond political parties for a moment and examine what qualities a candidate should have.

Political journalist John Dickerson wrote in 2012 that, to be a good president, a candidate should possess qualities in four categories: political skill (encompassing honesty and political strategizing), management ability (is focused; can admit mistakes, sift through complex ideas and recognize baloney), persuasiveness (can deliver a good speech, knows when to stay quiet) and temperament (has faced crises, can handle the pressures of the office, can deal with uncertainty).

Author and former senior executive Steve Tobak wrote in Entrepreneur.com in October 2015 that the next president should have “serious” leadership and management skills; should be goal- and achievement-oriented; have real-life experience outside of politics; advocate for merit over bureaucracy; be a master negotiator; be plain-spoken, direct and driven to win; and hold himself (or herself) accountable.

It’s time to do our homework so we can be prepared to choose the presidential candidate we believe is best qualified. That decision should be based on observation and research, not just on someone else’s opinions.

We can inform ourselves by researching about the candidates, watching or reading summaries of debates, and talking to others about their observations. But it is becoming increasingly more important to be selective in choosing our sources of information, particularly when viewing material online. Too often, reports and opinions that “go viral” are slanted, skewed or outright falsified to influence rather than to inform.

It also can be beneficial to listen to people with opinions that differ from our own; considering other people’s perspectives can broaden or refine our opinions and thinking processes.

Our right to vote is precious, and our votes should be cast purposefully. After all, we have to live with the results of the election for the next four years.

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