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Our Opinion: The battle rages on

Election campaigns are often described in militaristic terms. The word campaign itself has a military meaning; we speak of "standard bearers," and candidates amass "war chests." But perhaps the most warlike characteristic, especially in hard-fought races, is that truth, in the words of the old saying, is the first casualty. That is certainly the case in the battle over an initiative that would ban genetically modified crops in Jackson County.

Claims and counterclaims swirl around Ballot Measure 15-119, and each side accuses the other of stretching the truth or telling "lies" to sway voters. Both sides are guilty at least of hyperbole if not outright falsehood.

In the past week, even a neutral survey intended to measure the effectiveness of a citizen review panel triggered claims that it was an attempt to influence the outcome of the vote.

Opponents of the GMO ban see an ulterior motive behind a cover letter signed by Secretary of State Kate Brown urging recipients to answer the questionnaire and return it. Brown's office says her only motive was to encourage participation, and a researcher behind the survey denies having any hidden agenda.

We're inclined to believe both, although the timing could have been better. It also seems to us that the researchers didn't have a good sense of how polarized this community has become over the issue and how the survey might be misconstrued.

The Citizen Initiative Review process was created at the state level to analyze statewide ballot measures to help voters understand what are often complex issues and cast informed votes. The panel that examined the GMO measure was the first time the concept had been applied to a local election.

The review panel spent four days at the end of April researching the arguments for and against the measure and issued its findings on the evening of April 30. The panel did not take a position for or against the measure, but both sides found something to like in the report.

This week, a detailed survey arrived in many voters' mailboxes. It included a copy of the review committee's findngs, and asked recipients to read them and complete a detailed questionnaire.

The questions were apparently intended to gauge the effectiveness of the review process, but they confused some voters, many of whom probably were unaware of the panel or its findings. Some of the questions could be viewed as "slanted" to those who had a strong opinion one way or the other on the ballot measure. Opponents of the measure saw the survey as biased in favor of it. Some individual supporters of the measure thought the survey was biased the other way, although the leader of the campaign to pass the measure says she wasn't troubled by it.

A researcher behind the survey says it was important to query voters before election day, while the issue was fresh in their minds. Fair enough, but it might have been better to complete the review process and mail out the survey earlier, before many voters had already returned their ballots.

Both sides in this campaign have engaged in some exaggeration to make their case.

Opponents latched on to the highest possible estimated enforcement cost and warned darkly that funding for police protection and libraries would be slashed to pay for it — an unlikely scenario and an unwarranted assumption. Opponents also said "sustainable" farms growing corn and hay would be "banned" — a dubious claim — and suggested this newspaper said passage of the measure would be a "disaster," which is yet another exaggeration.

Supporters claimed enforcement costs would be zero — equally implausible, considering Jackson County has no agriculture department, unlike the California counties that adopted similar bans. Many backers also emphasized the health risks of agricultural pesticides, which would be unaffected by the measure.

Ballot Measure 15-119 is complex, and it's easy to be swayed by sensational claims on both sides. The election is Tuesday, so if you haven't voted yet, please do — but don't make your decision based on the campaign rhetoric from either side. Do your own homework and make up your mind based on that rather than on a few factually challenged soundbites.