In less than seven months, the die will be cast. At present, not even the stars above know who will be voicing the Presidential Inaugural Oath come January 2009. Between now and Election Day, November 4, masses of media will continue to assault the sense, common and uncommon, of every American who has even the slightest care for the future of our nation and our world.

Though by now the rhetoric of the parties and their candidates is solidly predictable, the wise voter should keep an open mind in the months remaining. The way this presidential race is going, anything can happen – and probably will.

In simpler times, the party conventions took care of the sorting-through process, often behind closed doors, in power clusters of delegates determined by the primaries. But the explosion and omnipresence of the media changed all that. Party conventions have become rubber-stamp rituals certifying and touting the winners of year-long — and getting longer — popularity contests. Seems like the first Tuesday in November is becoming more and more like the finale of a combined “American Idol”/”Survivor” show.

To offset the circus of talking heads, editorial and op/ed declaimers, and the e-mail trash from laughers and loonies, I have established three criteria to help me decide how I will vote come November:

• To look for someone I can trust to consistently voice my concerns to the nation-at-large and specifically to its lawmakers

• To listen seriously only to those who respect my mind (which I hold open) and my values (which I hold dear)

• To try to send someone to Washington who knows how it works since change can never happen otherwise

While recognizing the differences between parties and the importance of their conventions’ platforms, I ultimately vote person, not party. I need a president who deserves my respect and honors in some small way my ideals; and I continue to believe many others are like me in that regard.

A vote is a precious thing. Determining where it goes should not be a last-minute, what-the-heck kind of decision. That can happen when one makes the mistake that a vote is about the candidates and what they profess. Partly true, perhaps, but the most powerful vote is about self and what one believes. In a democracy, every voice deserves to be heard, not as an echo of someone else’s mind but as a piece of