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We're in the middle of the Labor Day weekend, which marks the unofficial end of summer: Already, the days are growing shorter, and if you look closely, you can see signs that the leaves are starting to turn.

Time to switch into a different rhythm of workdays and schooldays. Time to take stock of how you did on your summer of 2016 bucket list. (I could have done better with my list, but I did finish that massive "City on Fire" novel.)

And it's time to gird our collective loins for the horror of the next eight weeks: Labor Day marks the traditional start of the election season.

I know what you're thinking: It seems as if we've been in the middle of the election season since, well, right after Election Day 2014. And it is true that it seems as if election season now is a year-round proposition, thanks in large part to the increasing costs of campaigns and the glories of the 24-hour news cycle.

But as the finish line to this election season comes into sharper focus as we flip the calendar into September, it pushes campaigns into overdrive. Just eight weeks. Sixty days. Now comes the sprint.

So if you think you've heard a bunch of campaign buzz building throughout the summer, well, that's just been the warmup acts. The main acts are about to storm the stage. Campaigns that have seemed pretty weird already — and, yes, we're talking about the presidential race — are likely to turn even more surreal. Remember the golden days right after the conventions, when we thought the presidential race couldn't get any stranger? What naive fools we were.

It's an odd dynamic indeed, when voters aren't so much pondering the choice between Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump but whether they should vote at all in that particular race.

And in the meantime, other races of importance will struggle to be heard over the din. 

Which is a shame: The ballot that Oregon voters will receive in just a matter of weeks includes some vital races. The key item on the state ballot, of course, is Measure 97, the proposal for a sales tax on certain Oregon corporations; that has important implications for every Oregon citizen. But I fear that important arguments on each side are about to get drowned out in a brutal name-calling battle between Oregon businesses and unions. 

The ballot also features a handful of other intriguing statewide measures; Measure 98, which mandates that the state provide school districts $800 per student to pay for career education and other dropout-prevention measures, and Measure 99, which would take state lottery money that had been designated for economic development and spend it to expand Outdoor School offerings, both deserve attention.

The ballot has statewide races that might get interesting: The governor's race between Democrat Kate Brown and Republican Bud Pierce could be closer than people expect, although Brown still would seem to have the edge in Oregon, where registered Democrats handily outnumber Republicans. The secretary of state's office has been a launching pad for the governor's office, and so the race there merits attention from thoughtful voters, as does the race for state treasurer.

The mid-valley does not appear to have any keenly contested legislative races, with the possible exception of House District 23, in which longtime foes Mike Nearman and Jim Thompson are facing off; Thompson is running as an Independent against Nearman, the Republican incumbent.

But the ballots will contain a variety of important local races and measures, from county commissions to city councils to levies and questions about the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana. 

With that much action on the ballot, it's no wonder that we're headed for a noisy stretch beginning on Tuesday. The best bet for turning down the din? When your ballot arrives in mid-October, vote early. Then tune back in on Nov. 8 to see how it all turns out. (mm)

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