Internet and the library can help you sort out bogus election claims


Herald Writer


Will the political assaults ever stop?

You can bet it will only get worse until Tuesday night’s blessed relief.

But rather than staying home and pulling up the covers or watching Disney videos all weekend, do something proactive: Turn on the computer and surf for a while.

That’s the suggestion of John Gastil, who teaches political communication at the University of Washington.

Project Vote Smart’s Web site,, has plenty of solid information, without the overdone rhetoric, to help voters figure out how to mark their ballots, Gastil said. Other recommended sites are or

And if you don’t have Internet access?

"Go to your public library and spend a few hours reading the newspaper," said Judy Hedden, president of the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County. "You’re not going to find (good information) by listening to ads. You’re not going to find it by reading fliers. You’re going to find it from those who have gathered the information online or by reading the print media."

The blizzard of negativity surrounding the election has mostly been funded by political parties or outside organizations, not the candidates, Hedden said, adding that voters should look carefully to see who paid for an ad and take that into account.

"We shouldn’t even be listening to them at all, because they’re not from the candidates themselves," Hedden said. "Most of them are misleading at best and downright lies at worst."

One prime example is local.

Numerous TV ads and brochures, paid for by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and the state Democratic Central Committee claim that Inslee’s opponent, Republican Dan McDonald, voted as a state senator to allow guns on school grounds.

That’s technically true, but the bill actually expanded the federal law to make the state’s schools gun-free zones. It passed nearly unanimously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry.

McDonald did vote for an amendment that would have allowed those with concealed weapon permits to keep their guns with them if they first checked in with school officials, but that amendment failed. Lawmakers decided in the final version to require that legally concealed weapons stay in their owners’ cars when on school grounds.

"That’s a really good example of having to go so far to nail someone, that you’d have to twist that," Gastil said. "That’s a sign of desperation."

Inslee and McDonald have also sparred over whether Inslee voted for a state income tax, as McDonald’s TV ads claim, or if the bill in question was merely a proposed payroll deduction.

The political trickery doesn’t end with questionable claims.

Democrats have cried foul about phone calls saying that unions are endorsing Republican John Koster instead of Democrat Rick Larsen in the 2nd Congressional District race, or that Democrat Liz Loomis has dropped out of the 39th Legislative District race against Republican Kirk Pearson. Neither is true.

And the state Democratic Central Committee used copies of past Herald editorials and news articles for an advertisement against state Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, that to some looked like it was sent by the newspaper itself, although The Herald’s editorial board endorsed Stevens this year.

"The world seems so chaotic right now because so are the campaigns," Gastil said.

Most campaigns aren’t well-organized, monolithic affairs, he said. They’re run out of desperation, with many cooks in many kitchens, including the state parties, the national parties and hundreds of outside interest groups, all in addition to the candidates themselves.

"I think voters really do need something that cuts through the waves of information they’re getting," Gastil said.

Many overwhelmed voters look for things they know have to be true and base their decisions on those things, even if they’re trivial, Gastil said. For example, despite numerous campaign promises to the Hispanic community, Gerald Ford’s stock went down with Hispanics in 1976 when he showed he didn’t know how to eat a tamale — he tried to take a bite with the corn husk still on.

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