Self-Reflection, Early and Often: Biennial Election Update

We were excited to launch our new website on 15 August. Our goal is to keep this up-to-date as a reliable source of accessible, useful, and non-partisan information for Salem.

Launching our first-ever, on-line candidate guide was a bit of a bumpy ride, but we are glad we did it and hope Salem finds it useful. In the interests of transparency, we’d like to share some behind-the-scenes drama with you all. (Well, maybe it was only drama to us, but we hope you will find it interesting.)

In doing the candidate guide, there were certain things that we just did not anticipate and then we had to deal with them on the fly (and while our webmaster was traveling and had the flu–bad week for her). In this modern day, we didn’t foresee that there would be a candidate uncomfortable with email and other electronica. We specifically emailed individuals and didn’t send blind copies of the questions to candidates, but some emails still filtered themselves into spam. Most of all, we didn’t think our questions and time-frame would be onerous to candidates: a bio, a picture, and four questions with a 250-words-or-less limit on answers. We thought candidates could answer at least two questions of the four questions in their sleep, and that they were likely to have thought about at least one of the other two questions, maybe even both.

Well, we heard back (very clearly!) that some candidates did not agree that our questions were an easy-peasy assignment. We also heard that even an “easy” writing assignment is not so easy when you are juggling work and campaigning. That led to something else that we did not anticipate: candidates missing our deadline and having to decide what to do about that.

We decided that the candidate guide is for the voters, and it would not be in the voters’ best interest to exclude candidates who submitted late. The deadline was intended as a way to be fair to the candidates: once it passed, and we published the guide, all candidates adhering to the deadline would have equal time on our website. No one would have the advantage of being up first (longer exposure). We determined to publish late submissions to provide information to the voters, rather than withhold it. Especially since, as noted above, there was at least one instance of our invitation to submit being directed to spam.

That led to more questions (in some cases posed directly to us). Was that fair to the candidates who met the deadline? Shouldn’t the voters know that some candidates missed the deadline (and why)? What if a later-submitting candidate copied someone else’s answers?

Well, we decided that the important thing here is not so much whether candidates complied with LWVS expectations, but what the candidates were telling the voters about their positions on the issues and about their philosophy of public service. Yes, if a candidate saw other candidates’ answers first, that might help them write their own answers. But, and this is the crux of the matter, the important thing is to get the candidates on record. Whether their thoughts are original or not, whether they met the deadline or not, by submitting answers the candidates are now bound to those answers and the voters have more information. We encourage all of you to attend the forums to see how the candidates do without the benefit of time to consider their words and answers.

Once the final election is behind us all, the League would like to have a debriefing session about the candidate guide, our candidate forums, and all things voting, so that 2021 is an even better municipal election year. We definitely already have some ideas about how to improve the candidate guide and the process for putting it together . . . stay tuned. And, thank you for your patience and support! We’ve turned the comments on for this post, so if you have suggestions, feel free to leave them below, too.