Labor Day isn't just the traditional end of summer and beginning of school. It also heralds the official kickoff of the campaign season - this year, the midterm congressional races.
And you can almost feel the Internet heating up with misinformation, false claims and half-truths.
The cyber age has brought us a wealth of valuable, factual information, more than we can handle. But it is also a national rumor mill, in which falsehoods get picked up and circulated until some believe them to be gospel truth. And woe to those who try to debunk what some passionately want to believe is true - whether it is health care "death squads" or where the president was born.
Here on the editorial page, we've already seen untrue statements in letters about congressional candidates for office this year. We try to eliminate those falsehoods, or request people back up their facts with nonpartisan, mainstream sources.
So for those who want to base their votes on facts rather than partisan fantasy - or just want to write a good letter to the editor - here are a few solid web sites on which to check information.
One is FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that attempts "to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics," according to the site. It debunks both Republican and Democratic fictions: One of the more recent postings says President Barack Obama's was wrong in claiming Republican leaders are trying to privatize Social Security. Another recent posting corrects some of the distorted and misleading claims about Democrats' votes on health care that are being aired by a group associated with Republican political advisor Karl Rove.
We also urge readers to get the facts on the votes of incumbents. One source is a Washington Post database recording every vote of members of Congress since 1991: projects.washingtonpost.com/ congress.
Another site is votesmart.org, which contains not only a wealth of information about incumbents - including how special-interest groups rate their voting records - but also about challengers.
Project Vote Smart also sends all candidates what it calls a "political courage test," a several-page survey that seeks their positions on a range of issues. Incumbents - and many challengers - traditionally ignore it, afraid to be attacked by opponents for taking an unequivocable stand. As the group says, it's a "courage" test. But if knowing where candidates stand on an issue isn't important to democracy, we're not sure what is. The surveys for New Jersey candidates are not yet available on the group's site, but will be posted shortly, according to a spokesperson.
These are far from the only sources of good, solid, factual information. But conscientious voters might want to check them out.
It's going to be a long election season.
Candidates: Take the test
Congressional candidates need to answer questions so voters can know their political positions.
Last month, we urged candidates running for Congress in South Jersey to let voters know where they stand
on all the important issues of the day by completing the political
courage test forms they received from the nonprofit Project Vote Smart
-- an organization whose mission is to keep voters informed about
Candidates in all congressional races nationally were sent the detailed
survey last month and asked to complete it by Aug. 18 so Project Vote
Smart could post the results on www.votesmart.org well before Election
Day on Nov. 2. The
test asks candidates where they stand on dozens of issues -- taxes,
abortion, national security, Social Security, etc. When candidates
complete the test, voters can get a clear picture of all their beliefs
and positions. It's a fantastic resource for voters.
As of Tuesday morning -- six days past the deadline -- seven of the 15
candidates running in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd congressional districts in
South Jersey took the test, according to Project Vote Smart's
In the 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews and
his Republican challenger, Dale Glading, have completed the test. Green
Party candidate Mark Heacock and Time for Change NJ candidate Margaret
Chapman have also completed the political courage test.
In the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, Democratic challenger Gary
Stein and Constitution Party candidate Peter Boyce have taken the test.
In the 3rd Congressional District, where one of the most watched races
in the state will be waged, only Peter DeStefano, he of the
questionable Tea Party label, has completed the test.
We applaud all seven of these candidates for respecting voters and completing the political courage test.
For those candidates who haven't answered the questions about their positions, we ask: Why?
s of Tuesday, Project Vote Smart had yet to receive a completed
political courage test from the two top candidates in the contentious
3rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler or Republican challenger
Jon Runyan. Likewise, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of the 2nd District hadn't yet completed the test.
third-party candidates in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts -- Nicky
Petrutz, Mark Lovett, Vitov Valdes-Munoz, Russ Conger and Lawrence
Donahue -- also hadn't completed the test.
We implore these candidates to show respect to voters and answer
Project Vote Smart's questions. Voters should have the ability to go a
neutral, nonpartisan clearinghouse such as votesmart.org and get
information about all candidates in each race, particularly candidates'
positions, voting records and campaign finance data. That's exactly
what Project Vote Smart tries to provide.
Candidates get a lot of surveys
and don't respond to all of them. But this one is important and must
not be ignored by those running for Congress in South Jersey.