On Tuesday Vineyard voters will join the rest of the country in going to the polls and casting ballots for President of the United States and an array of state and local contests. By any measure this election will be historic. After months of listening, reading, and no doubt at times wanting to tune out the rancor and high-volume messages blasting from every media outlet, voters have a deep well of information on which to base their choices. Ideological differences between the two major political parties have been sharply drawn on the issues, including the economy, health care, education, civil rights, women’s issues and foreign policy.

Vineyard voters will be choosing between the two principal candidates for president: the incumbent Democrat Barack Obama, the first African American president, and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. They will vote in a hard-fought U.S. Senate race between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican incumbent Scott Brown that is being closely watched around the country for its potential to decide which party will control the Senate. They will weigh in on five ballot questions ranging from legalization of medical marijuana to campaign finance reform. There are also some important choices to make this year closer to home, especially for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The Gazette has a longstanding policy of not endorsing candidates, and though we have our own strong opinions, we are adhering to that tradition again this year. We often take positions on issues, but generally limit ourselves to matters of very local concern. In covering the news, we have a singular focus: Martha’s Vineyard. We interview and report on local candidates, cover important local topics and attend and summarize local political forums and meetings. When we talk to candidates for national or regional office, we quiz them about topics that affect the Island. We welcome commentaries and letters from members of the Vineyard community on a range of issues, and sometimes these concern matters beyond our shores. But we are clear that what the Gazette can provide uniquely is accurate and reliable information particular to our Island community, and we leave it to our readers to weigh what we report in making their own voting choices.

Given this local preoccupation, we can imagine few voting choices with more direct impact on the Vineyard than the ones that will decide the makeup of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The regional planning agency was founded thirty-eight years ago when the state legislature explicitly recognized that the Island had unique historic, environmental, archeological, scientific and cultural resources that were of value to the commonwealth and in danger of disappearing without special protection.

Nine members of the commission are elected at large every two years. At least one and not more than two may be elected from each Island town. This year fourteen people are running for the nine seats; interviews with the candidates appear in today’s edition, with their views on the recent roundabout vote, the hotly-debated question of whether the commission should review very large houses, and more broadly on the role of the commission today on the Vineyard.

We believe the commission has played a pivotal role in protecting the Vineyard from the ruinous effects of overdevelopment across nearly four decades and can play an important role going forward on a range of other Islandwide issues, including coastal erosion and pondwater protection. Though the economic and political climate has changed since 1974, the need for a central planning agency charged with protecting the Island’s precious assets remains as acute as ever. The elected members of the commission have a burden of responsibility in carrying out the mission of this vital institution.

We urge voters to review the candidates’ statements and vote for those who have articulated a clear understanding of what is at stake.

Vineyard voters will also have a chance to select candidates for the seven-member Dukes County Commission, though it is telling that only five candidates appear on the ballot and only one other person has declared as a write-in candidate. Interviews with the candidates appear in today’s edition and all speak to the question of the county’s role in a variety of regional issues. In fact, the actual role of the county commission has continued to shrink over the years, and the time may have come to consider whether its remaining functions could go elsewhere.

As we reflect on the recent election season, we are disheartened by the enormous sums of money spent both by candidates and PACs on mostly negative political advertising that did little to illuminate substantive philosophical or policy differences. Although they are nonbinding, Questions four and five on the Vineyard’s election ballot would have our state legislators support a Constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision, which opened the door to anonymous and unfettered election spending. Gazette readers are too smart to have their votes bought. We simply ask that you get to the polls on Tuesday and make your vote count.