Yes, they’re off and running, and no, we’re not talking about a horse race. What we are talking about is the end of candidate filing and the official start of the 2018 election cycle. In all, 292 people filed for seats in the Montana legislature, as well as candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, the Public Service Commission, judges and even for Clerk of the Montana Supreme Court. Now the fun begins.

It’s the candidates’ job to present themselves in the best light possible, and it’s our job to discern the truth. There’s an old adage in politics: If they like you, they will vote for you. It’s that simple. It’s also a sad commentary on us as voters. We like to think of ourselves as smart, engaged and responsible. In truth, we’re lazy, not all that intelligent, and in many cases, extremely irresponsible, to the degree that many of us vote time and again for candidates that vote against the very values that we claim to hold dear.

So how does this happen? It happens for several reasons: First, an amazingly large percentage of us are not registered to vote and of those that are registered, only about 70% will actually cast a ballot, and of those who DO vote, only a small percentage cast informed and  educated votes. Most of us listen to the sound bites. We see a TV ad or read a headline of an spe postcard stuffed into our mailboxes and make our decision based on that alone. And what about party affiliation? Can’t we just vote a straight party-line ticket and call it good?

In a recent newspaper article, a reporter sounded the alarm, insinuating that a Green Party candidate was really a Republican plant designed to draw votes away from the Democrat candidate in Montana’s U.S. Senate race. As voters, we hate bait and switch, but unfortunately, it happens all the time. A quick glance at legislative scorecards show plenty of Republicans who regularly score 30 or 40% on conservative issues. It could be argued that these are really Democrats who choose to run as Republicans because they live in Republican-leaning districts. The bottom line is that voting a straight party-line ticket does not insure that you’re voting for candidates who support your values.

So, what’s the solution? How do we break the cycle of bait and switch? It’s possible. Unfortunately, it requires lazy, uninformed and irresponsible voters to become diligent, well-informed and responsible. At the very least, we should register to vote. Leaving the selection of our elected officials up to others who may not hold our values makes no sense at all. It’s also time to get informed. Leave the TV ads to the couch potatoes. It may be difficult to find a lot of information on people just entering politics, but incumbents have a voting record, and the voting record tells the story.

Many groups, like the Montana Family Foundation, produce legislative score cards and voter guides. Take the time to study these carefully, and if a candidate refuses to fill out a vote survey, take that into consideration. When I was in public office, I never filled out surveys from the ACLU or Planned Parenthood, and that act alone spoke volumes.

The bottom line is that the job of responsible citizenship is not easy. It never has been. But if we as Christians don’t take the time to express our values and ideals through our votes, then the other side wins by default, and that, my friends, is completely unacceptable.