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Lots to consider before casting your first vote

February 12, 2008|By SHOVAL RESNICK / Pulse Corresponent

Five, four, three, two, one -- and the next wave of presidential primary polls close.

It is 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Numbers for East Coast states trickle in and CNN's pie charts change with every new report. Only 1 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent of polling locations have reported in and yet winners are being projected.

Across the bottom of the screen, the news crawl repeats the number of delegates needed for the Democrats and Republicans to win the nomination. The news anchors are saying that Super Tuesday may not provide a clear winner, that the campaign may extend to the party conventions in August. Two Democratic candidates are running neck and neck; four Republicans are splitting Georgia -- 34 percent, 32 percent, 30 percent, 4 percent.

So how do you choose?

"A good voter should be well-educated about the beliefs and ideas of the candidates," said Jeanie Fields, an 18-year-old South Hagerstown High School senior. "A decision should involve careful research."

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It is important to know what a candidate has done in the past as well as what their plans are for the future. A plethora of news sources can help in the decision.

· "Meet the Press" and other TV news shows on NBC, CNN and C-Span are packed with information.

· Sunday editions of the Washington Post have a page of short election stories and updates; washingtonpost.com's Campaign 2008 page allows you to look at each of the many candidates. The New York Times is also useful.

· National Public Radio brings to light interesting information about the candidates. Hagerstown receives three NPR broadcasting stations: WYPR (Baltimore) at 88.1; WAMU (Washington, D.C.) at 88.5; and WETA (Washington) at 89.1.

· The Web site PopularMechanics.com/science's "Geek the Vote '08" section gives direct quotes from candidates on tech-related topics such as automotive, science education, space, the environment and firearms.

Millie Lichtenberg, an 18-year-old South High senior, said her decisions were made "through watching the debates [where] I learned which candidate was going to focus on what I was concerned about. I also took a test online that showed me which candidate was the most compatible with my concerns."

TV debates might or might not be helpful. Some people think that candidates' answers are unrehearsed, so they are the truth. Others view the debate as a beauty contest, in which spectators judge candidates' appearance and speaking ability, not what they actually say since they tend not to fully answer questions. Still others think the debates are a chance to see the personalities of the candidates, which is important as the president must be able to work with Congress to fulfill promises made on the campaign trail.

In the end, the decision is personal and individual. Lichtenberg suggests teenage voters "prioritize what concerns you and what problems you want addressed." Fields reminds teens that a voter "should not compromise their own ideals in the search for an easy decision."

The decision is not an easy one; the president is the leader of the country and a liaison to the world, a job that can not be taken lightly.

South High teacher Dani Biancolli advised to "look at the candidate, not the party." Parties such as the Republicans and Democrats are broad categories which are often looked to as final decision-makers. Parties convey basic ideals. However, different candidates fit into their party's mold to a greater or lesser degree.

Every aspect of a candidate should be taken into account. Look at the whole picture.

Then you might be prepared to walk into the voting booth, and, for the first time, cast your ballot..

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