Ready for a good scare? The negative political advertising is causing some voters to think about staying home on Election Day. They’re so disgusted with the amount of mud that has been thrown, they’d just as soon leave ballots blank.

If negative political advertising keeps even one person home next Tuesday, it has damaged the electoral process.

This is, experts agree, the nastiest campaign season Maine has ever witnessed.

All of the candidates are complaining about the negativity, but nearly all have engaged its power.

Attack ads are frequently unveiled near the end of the campaign season to confuse voters, cast doubt about political records and stir emotion among target groups.

Want to worry senior citizens? Suggest a candidate supports a reduction in Social Security or doesn’t support prescription drug reform.

Business owners? Candidates can easily be portrayed as being anti-business or anti-education.

Environmentalists react with alarm if candidates are characterized as enemies of our natural resources.

Confusing voters, no matter how intent a candidate is on winning election, clashes with this country’s ideal of a government by, of and for the people.

Many candidates have distanced themselves from negative ads paid for by their political parties because the ads are developed and distributed independent from local campaigns. Soft money pays the bills and candidates can truthfully say they knew nothing about them.

That has happened in the Collins-Pingree race and in the Michaud-Raye contest. And the candidates have shrugged their shoulders and said “my campaign didn’t develop the ad.”

That may be true, but permitting their names and political affiliations to be used to distort an opponent’s record certainly condones the practice.

Americans have become accustomed to hearing negative ads during presidential and congressional campaigns, but this year the negativity has crept into legislative races, too.

When Republicans suggest that Democrats’ goal is to fight for more taxes and more spending, and when Democrats suggest that Republicans are bent on reducing needed social services, it fosters the kind of animosity that is tough to overlook.

Gov. King just announced that he will summon the Legislature back in session on Nov. 13, one week post-election. Our representatives, many of whom will still be angry and hurt by campaign tactics, will have to join forces to tackle a significant budget shortfall. It will be hard work, and tough choices will have to be made. The amount of criticism hurled during the campaign cycle will make this task even more difficult than feared.

The real mystery is why candidates play voters as they do. You would think that well-informed and discerning voters would select and build the best government. And you’d think candidates would want that, too, and stick to arguing issues, not hurling half-truths.

If the purpose of negative advertising is to confuse voters and keep them from the polls, it compromises good government and harms all stakeholders.

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