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Confused about candidates? Experts say do your homework
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/30/2008 12:06 AM

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Residents of the 14th Congressional District could have used another recycling bin for the gigantic postcards they received almost every day from Republican Jim Oberweis and Democrat Bill Foster as the men jousted in a special March election to fill out the term vacated by Dennis Hastert.

Then there were the TV commercials, with mooing cows and screaming graphics about how Foster was going to keep you from getting your Social Security, or Oberweis was putting more of American in the hands of China.

And how about those robo-calls that sucked up time on answering machines, including those inviting people to participate in "town halls" over the phone?

And that's not even touching on the signs on the neighbors' lawns.

As another Election Day looms, how's a voter to handle the glut of information? How do you figure out who is telling the truth and who would be best for office?

Do your homework, says Matthew Streb, a political science assistant professor at Northern Illinois University.

He will give you an idea of what voters need to know when he speaks at 7 p.m. today at the Batavia Library, 10 S. Batavia Ave. His topic: "Is This Any Way to Elect a President?"

No matter what the race, he suggests you first go right to the source,

"The one great thing about the Internet is every candidate has a Web page," he said.

Visit candidate's Web pages and look up their position statements. "Don't let it be filtered through somebody else," Streb said, such as a media commentator. But also remember that a candidate is going to put his or her own spin on things.

Compare what they say with how they have acted, or what is real at sites such as factcheck.org (paid for by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania) or the Political Tracker blog on CNN, he said.

"The news media is trying to act as a watchdog over the candidates," he said.

It's not easy to keep it all straight.

"A lot of these issues are complex issues," Streb said, noting most people narrow it down to where candidates stand on the main issues such as the economy, abortion, health care or war.

He suggests people look at the broad issues, not necessarily the individual issues. For example, decide whether you believe the government should provide universal health care, or if it should be left to the free market. Then in a primary, where candidates are likely to have the same stance in general, look for differences in the details of their proposals. But in the national election, where differences between the candidates are starker, don't get bogged down in the details of how a candidate will bring about what they say they want, he said.

The League of Women Voters has, for many years, endeavored to educate voters. Local chapters often sponsor candidate forums where a moderator puts questions to those running for office, while an audience watches.

The Batavia and Geneva-St. Charles chapters are sponsoring one such forum on Oct. 5 for the 14th Congressional District, and another one for state House 49th and 50th districts and the Kane County Board chairman race Oct. 15.

The league strives to be nonpartisan. It's planning a forum on a Campton Hills referendum to disband the village, but unless both sides of the issue are represented, it won't hold it.

Look it up

A sampling of places that either present candidates' views, or try to check if what they say is true. Also, you can look up what kind of money candidates are receiving and your neighbors are giving.

Follow the candidate:

Obama.com: Sen. Barack Obama's official site

johnmccain.com: Sen. John McCain's official site

jimoberweis.com: Republican candidate running against Rep. Bill Foster for 14th Congressional seat

foster08.com: Democrat Foster's campaign site

kanedems.org.: Kane County Democratic Central Committee

kanegop.org.: Kane County Republican Central Committee

il.LP.org.: Illinois Libertarian Party

Really? They said what?

factcheck.org - owned by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania

politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/category/fact-check: From CNN television network

Who's paying?

elections.il.us: Illinois State Board of Elections

fec.gov.: Federal Elections Commission

In person

The Leagues of Women Voters of Batavia and Geneva-St. Charles have a forum for 14th Congressional District candidates at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Norris Center, St. Charles East High School, 1040 Dunham Road, St. Charles.

The leagues also have a forum for candidates in the 49th and 50th State House districts, and the Kane County Board chairman, at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Batavia Government Center, 100 N. Island Ave.

And the League of Women Voters of Geneva-St. Charles is tentatively planning a forum on the Campton Hills disbandment referendum Oct. 19.