POINT OF VIEW: Candidate forums are a core feature of U.S. politics

League of Women Voters member urges participation

  • By Nell Clausen League of Women Voters of Clallam County
  • Saturday, May 28, 2022 1:30am
  • OpinionClallam County
Nell Clausen

Nell Clausen

CANDIDATES HAVE STATED their intentions to run for public office. The League of Women Voters of Clallam County wants to remind everyone why and how the League of Women Voters holds public, non-partisan candidate forums for elections in which there are at least two candidates. This format allows candidates to make an opening and closing statement and answer questions from a moderator.

The LWVCLA takes our role in supporting democracy seriously. Being willing to face questions when running for office is a sign of a candidate’s willingness to engage with all constituents while in office.

As all current elected officials can attest, there’s never a time when constituents won’t want to engage with their representatives. The questions asked of candidates in a LWVCLA forum are a similar representation of what an election official faces when in office.

Attending or watching a candidate forum is one of the best ways to prepare for casting your ballot. As a core feature of U.S. politics, candidate forums help voters learn more about a candidate and their stance on key issues. The candidates that we vote into office will make important decisions that affect you, your family, and your community. You’d never hire someone for a position without interviewing them first, right?

The League of Women Voters of Clallam County continues to focus candidate forums on issues. One good outcome of the pandemic is that it prompted our League to take advantage of the technological tools at our disposal. We have learned that using tools such as Zoom has increased public participation and viewing of these forums.

For these reasons, we plan to continue holding our forums online, which will also enable candidates to participate regardless of their location.

Here’s a brief primer on how the LWVCLA prepares our candidate forums:

We hold candidate forums a few weeks before ballots are mailed so candidate positions are fresh in the minds of the voters. Ideally, we schedule forums in the evenings and at a time when we feel most people will be able to view them. Whenever possible, we are always willing to adjust to accommodate candidates’ schedules.

As LWVCLA’s Voter Service’s chair, I reach out to the candidates in these competitive races by email and phone, and I document all communications. Though some candidates in past elections have refused to respond to our multiple invitations to participate in LWVCLA forums, I remain hopeful that this behavior was an aberration and will not be repeated in future elections.

Prior to the forum, the LWVCLA moderator will begin grouping questions into issue categories.

At the same time as I reach out to candidates, we also encourage civic groups, political parties, schools, and community organizations to submit questions. Affordable housing, homelessness, policing, road repairs — if you’ve lived in the county for any length of time, you know already what many questions will cover. The exact wording and order of questions remains confidential with the moderator until just before the forum begins.

Our forums are held via Zoom and recorded. A day or two after each forum, the resulting video is posted on our YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAGqsUCnCjYV–l9qba Zf0A as well as on the “Forums” page of our website at lwvcla.org, so that the maximum number of voters can see the candidates’ spontaneous responses to policy questions.

Examples of past forums are available at both of these sites for those candidates who wish to see our procedures in action.

Candidates, after filing week ends, should be on the lookout for our outreach emails and phone calls. We are persistent because voter education is the core mission of your local League. The public expects candidates to participate and answer their questions.

If candidates refuse to participate, they are denying the community an opportunity for public education about where the candidate stands on the issues.

Voters, if there isn’t a forum scheduled for a competitive office, start asking both candidates why. It isn’t because we didn’t try; it’s because one of them refused to discuss their policy positions in a public, structured, non-partisan LWVCLA election forum.

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Nell Clausen has served as chair of the Voter Services Committee of the League of Women Voters Clallam County since 2021. More information on the LWVCLA can be found at lwvcla.org.

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