April 27, 2004 11:00 pm

The primary election is drawing near. Beginning Thursday, The Observer will start weighing in editorially on some of the races and issues voters will be deciding in the May 18 election.

Some readers might wonder why a newspaper editorial board would choose to endorse candidates and measures. Voicing our opinion on candidates and measures is no different than expressing views on local, state and national issues, which this and many newspapers do every day. We do not approach this from any particular political ideology, and we won't favor one party over another.

An editorial page is the backbone of a newspaper. Readers are not expected to blindly follow any newspaper's political views or endorsements. Editorial opinions — which are kept separate from news coverage — are just one part of a newspaper's responsibility in providing readers with food for thought.

Editorial boards that do endorsements are faced with reaching consensus on the candidates and issues. The individuals who make up the boards often are as divergent in their views as the public is. The Observer's editorial board covers the political spectrum. Arriving at a decision can be an arduous task, especially when races have more than one good candidate.

The board interviews candidates, studies issues and tries to arrive at a consensus on who and what to back. This year's primary doesn't feature many contested races. Last week the board met individually with the candidates for district attorney and the candidates for the Republican nomination for county commissioner. The board also decided it should weigh in on the strong-mayor measure that Union voters will be deciding. The Observer will not be making endorsements in the contested races in Wallowa County because the board has not met with the candidates.

The races for La Grande City Council and Union County sheriff will be decided in November. At that time the editorial board will decide which of the races it will weigh in on and then set about to interview candidates again.

One thing we will do differently this year beginning with the primary is to offer those candidates who are not endorsed a chance to write a response that will be featured on the Opinion page.

Newspaper political endorsements do generate controversy. Readers need to realize, though, that making them is not an easy thing to do. The board takes its responsibility seriously. The process isn't scientific, but it is collaborative. The editorials that result are intended to stimulate discussion and thought, not to tell readers how to vote.

We hope the endorsements help engage readers. Discuss the candidates and issues, and above all else, be sure to vote.