By Bryan Warner

Emerging from the stifling heat of Independence Hall, where the 1787 Constitutional Convention was held in a closed-door, shut-window session, a sweltering Benjamin Franklin was asked by a passing woman, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic -- if you can keep it.”

Franklin’s challenge speaks to the very foundation of our nation. If we are to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it requires that we the people put a bit of effort into choosing those who would represent us.

With a ballot that elects more statewide officials than most other states, North Carolina voters bear that responsibility more than many of their peers. For instance, this fall we will elect nine members of the Council of State, an executive-branch body made up of officials often appointed by the governor in other states, such as the commissioners of agriculture, labor and insurance.

Research by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education has found that very few voters can name the members of the Council of State. Our polling has also shown that the No. 1 reason why registered North Carolina voters don’t cast a ballot is for lack of information on the candidates.

This year, North Carolina finds itself with a blockbuster election featuring tight races for the White House, governor’s mansion and U.S. Senate. Our newfound battleground status could drive a record number of voters to the polls, which is marvelous.

However, once their choice is made for the presidency, will voters recognize the names of those vying for the Council of State, N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals? If past elections are any guide, there could be many ballots left blank at the bottom and on back.

Franklin Roosevelt wisely observed, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people the right to vote except the American people themselves -- and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” Too often we squander our opportunity to vote for down-ballot races, even though state and local officials frequently affect our lives more profoundly than any decree from the Oval Office.

It may seem difficult for voters to learn about low-profile contests when a deafening buzz swarms the races for president, governor and senator. How can voters cut through the clutter and get the facts they need to cast a confident ballot for such contests as the Council of State, appellate courts and the state legislature?

One way that voters can prep for the polls is by visiting, an online voter guide produced in a partnership between UNC-TV and the N.C. Center for Voter Education, featuring candidate profiles and in-depth multimedia interviews with the nominees, along with voting facts and election coverage.

Voters can also watch a series of forums with candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals, along with the contenders for state auditor, commissioner of insurance and state superintendent of public instruction, airing statewide at 1 pm on Sunday, Oct. 26 on UNC-TV.

Our right to vote is a gift, sanctified by the blood of patriots from Lexington to Normandy, made sacred by the resolve of suffragists in Seneca Falls and the courage of marchers in Selma. This election, let’s show Mr. Franklin that we can keep this Republic that he and his fellow founders entrusted with us. Let’s do our homework on all the candidates and then vote the whole ballot.
Warner is the director of communications for the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving elections in North Carolina.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the North Carolina Editorial Forum. 10/08