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A glut of information can paralyze voters

The phones we carry everywhere contain or have access to more information than the largest libraries in the world, many times more. It’s the same with our laptops, tablets, desktops or whatever digital device one prefers. All the collected knowledge of science, literature, mathematics and the arts that humans have amassed since the dawn of civilization is right there at our fingertips. 

It’s both amazing and overwhelming. Information overload, however, leads to just as many problems as it solves. A story from last week’s Smoky Mountain News illustrates that point. It also — at least by my way of thinking — is a good plug for the reliability of the old-fashioned newspaper, whether consumed in print or online.

We wrote about people in their late teens and twenties taking part in elections — which translates to actively participating in the civic life of the community they call home — and found there were some pleasantly surprising, but also baffling, conclusions. 

As it turns out, 18- to 25-year-old voter participation is on the rise. From the 2014 to 2018 election, voter turnout among this age group was up by double-digit percentages in nearly every county in our coverage area of Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. For those four counties, the average turnout among this age group was 30 percent (which was close to the statewide average). That may not sound so good, but considering that turnout was in the 12 to 20 percent range in 2014, that means in some counties more than twice as many people in this age group went to the polls in 2018. 

That simple fact tells us that efforts to engage this part of the electorate are having some success.

So, what’s stopping others from voting? Here’s what a 25-year-old working professional told our reporter: “I know I should vote but I don’t. I don’t even know who my options are to vote for and haven’t found that info to be easily accessible.”

Another 27-year-old blamed a lack of information and misinformation for keeping him from confidently striding into a voting booth.

“Being unsure what sources are credible and not just selling a candidate, which leads to the vote feeling somewhat like a shot in the dark and it’s not just positive options. A random vote can help a negative power. The ‘it doesn’t take long’ argument rarely includes the research portion of the casting a vote.”

As I edited the stor,y I thought about how our high schools have become so focused on testing that they don’t likely spend enough time on civics and history, I thought about how even at our universities so many have become entirely focused on career preparation that they don’t learn about critical thinking and have a difficult time analyzing all that information at their fingertips.

More importantly, though, it made me realize how the important role that local newspapers play in our civic life has been diminished. I don’t care if you live in New York City or Bryson City, the best — and most trusted — place to get factual stories about candidates running for office is almost always the local newspaper. Whether it’s simple questionnaire or a story about an important issue, nine times out of 10 you’ll find useful, factual information in the local newspaper. That’s just what we do.

And even if a reader may disagree with what shows up in the opinion or letters section of a newspaper, that doesn’t change the validity of the news stories. Despite the harping by some politicians who simply don’t like what’s reported, fake news is rarely found in newspapers. 

The primary election in North Carolina is just a few weeks away. Search our website and you’ll find Republican and Democratic sample ballots for all our counties, and with that in hand you can research the candidates in each specific race. Find an hour to squirrel away somewhere and do your homework by searching reliable news sites. Our community, our state, and our country at least deserve the amount of time it will take to make an informed choice.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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