Election plans

Every time elections start looming, I get big ideas for OrangePolitics. I would really like to provide some useful on-going information for voters throughout the campaign season.

Last year, I put together the first-ever OP Voter Guide, but all it contained was candidate websites, endorsements, and a few related OP threads. In 2003, Will Raymond posted a post-mortem on campaign contributions. These were great, but we can do more! I am thinking of selecting key issues and publishing candidate positions. Perhaps a weekly column in October about the races. What else?

I would like to hear suggestions from you, readers. What kind of information would be helpful for you (and your less-informed friends) at election time? And would you be interested in helping to collect and assemble it?


Ruby, after the filing deadline closes, perhaps we could
offer each candidate one paragraph of a maximum number
of words to describe why he
or she is running and what (s)he would do for the town.
We could then present them alphabetically to anyone who
cares enough to dial into the OP website. This would also
start a stimulating dialog, akin to letters to the editors.

I believe that, as the papers and radio do, we should not
accept posts from filed candidates after a certain date.

I'd like to see the voters identify the issues they are concerned about and then give the candidates an option to respond to that issue. For example, where do each of the Carrboro candidates stand on funding the downtown street project.

My suggestion would be to invite each candidate to submit a 300 word (i.e. like a letter to the editor) position on a specific issue. Run one for Chapel Hill and one for Carrboro each week in September and October as its own thread. I believe that would generate lively debate among citizens and perhaps even between the candidates.

I would like to see a calendar of forums and a list of links to candidate websites. Also think Dan's suggestion is good.
I am willing to help collect and assemble information.

Joe, Your proposal would allow sniping at candidates without allowing the candidates to respond; our newspapers mitigate that by controlling the former, and they allow candidate responses until fairly late. My greatest beef with OP has been two unfounded false allegations about me, one of them anonymous previous to the 2003 election. It would be best to allow candidates to respond, especially those candidates without many friends here on OP -- they're going to get bashed here anyway.

non-disclaimer: I'm almost certainly not running for anything.

Jeff has a point. I think we'll have a hard time finding many candidates who are willing to subject themselves to torture here. I can only think of two candidates who would participate.

Why the emphasis on limiting word counts? Shouldn't OP be different from the regular media where sound bits are the norm? Whatever course is taken here, it shouldn't replicate what will already be in available in every other media outlet.

Candidates will inevitably have to explain their positions sometime and somewhere.

They'll be limited in what they can say if they rely on the local media, either because of space/time constraints (letters to the editor, monthly editorials, etc.) or because their statements will be filtered/edited/sound-bit by reporters (with or without context, with or without an "editorial" slant, etc.)

They can follow former Candidate Greene's excellent example (a good idea if they want to win) and develop their positions in a thoughtful, extended manner on their own web sites and complement the site with the use of email lists to communicate frequently about the issues of the day. I believe Robin Cutson is the only current non-incumbent candidate with a site, though I know at least one other candidate that's working on one now.

Of course, there will be public appearances before the various "interest" groups in Town (CAN, Sierra Club, etc.). Word-of-mouth or reporting (media or 'blog) of those narrow 'cast proceedings might get wider distribution but surely they're more effective in mobilizing a base of likely supporters.

Then, there's the reliance on doing "good forum", where complex issues and nuanced discussion are discarded in favor of (possibly random) questions requiring maybe less heft and more strategy in their replies. The forums can be effective in some ways, like the public raising questions outside the possibly narrow interests of the group sponsoring the event (doubly so for the media sponsored circuses) but, generally, seem to be frustrating affair for the candidates wanting to communicate their vision or delineate differences in approach or even expose a little disingenuousness.

In all these "traditional" mechanisms, the opportunity for a candidate to draw distinctions between their positions, their style and that of the incumbents or other candidates, is rather limited - limited by time, limited by strategy (for instance, keeping your head down like Ms. Verkerk will surely try to do to avoid embarrassing expositions of her style and capabilities, etc.), limited by the actual means of communication.

Where does that leave us, the readers of OP.org?

OP has developed an audience of readers that at least follow many of the issues relevant to our local community. Sometimes the debate gets a little heady, maybe loses nuance or ignores complexity - hey, it even strays a little far afield - but I'm not aware of any other local venue like it. If you're a candidate and you want to hide from the glare of reasoned scrutiny, then Mary is right - run, don't walk, screaming from this forum, a forum that will evaluate, debate, maybe even nitpick your ideas.

Ahhh, though, if you think the Town is facing a tough 4 years, if you think the time is over for placeholders and seat warmers, if you think the complex issues before us demand timely, reasoned, researched and even nuanced evaluation, then it seems like you'd seize the opportunity that OP represents - an opportunity to address an audience educated and interested in the issues in a forum that, by its nature, can allow extensive and responsive exposition.

To sum up: if you're a candidate like Ms. Verkerk - duck and cover; if you're a candidate like Ms. Greene - educate, explain and expound.

Now, given the general inattention local races seem to get from our citizenry, CYA, in spite of any efforts to the contrary, might win out this year

But if you're a candidate not running for vain and selfish reasons, it seems that the public good would be best served by participating in a forum where your ideas can be tested, maybe even evolve, under the give-n-take of debate.

For this to be a forum in which candidates are willing to interact, there also needs to be an agreement by participants to be civil. E-democracy.org has done a good deal of research to arrive at a set of participation rules. "Based on a decade of experience, these rules provide a citizen-based foundation for online civility by focusing on public issues in order to promote effective public agenda-setting through dialogue. These online public forums are about the sharing of ideas and information rather than being right with one's ideology or winning an argument. "

The full set isn't appropriate for OP since they use email, but if you would like to see the rules they can be found at: http://e-democracy.org/rules/

The rules that seem appropriate for OP are:

1. Sign Posts - All forum posts must be signed at the bottom of every message by the author with their real first and last name, and city and/or neighborhood.

4. Be Civil - No insults, name calling or inflamed speech. Personal one-on-one arguments, disagreements or personality conflicts are not appropriate on the public discussion forum. This is a very basic part of keeping the dialogue constructive and is embodied in the maxim “discuss issues, not individuals”. A personal attack sours the discussion and creates a hostile environment in which many people will be reluctant to post messages

5. No Attacks or Threats - Personal attacks or public threats against the safety or security of participants are not allowed.

7. Avoid False Rumors, You are Liable - Rumors of a personal nature are not allowed. Your posts must be accurate based on your full knowledge and never intentionally false. Unverified "grapevine" information of a public nature must be within a forum's issue-based scope to be appropriate. ... you must correct your previous expressions of fact or "known" information that you find later to be false or substantially incorrect. Exceptions include your assertions already publicly corrected or clarified by others in forum discussions.

Thank you, Terri, for the link: e-democracy.org/rules/.
That's a fine set of guidelines.


I think you are spot-on with this idea. Perhaps known and respected members of the OP communithy could serve as moderators to remove ANY posts that don't follow the rules, no matter what their content or origin.
Everyone could still ask hard questions and balk if non-answers are given, but would have to stop short of personal attacks, name calling, etc.
Great idea.

Just to add in my "two cents." I think Ruby's offer of an OP forum for candidates is a great idea. But I agree with Terri's suggestion to allow the candidates to identify the issues they feel are most important as this gives more insight into the candidate than them just responding to pre-chosen issues. Also, this will not limit addressing other issues as readers can always request candidates respond to issues they have not listed. I also agree with Terri that there should not be an emphasis on word counts. When dealing with complex issues it is difficult to really explain an issue or a position in 300 words or less--short responses generally just become vague, non-controversial sound bites that work more to the benfit of those who have nothing to say and no new ideas than those who have spent a lot of time researching an issue. And, of course, I also feel that the "remaining civil" part is critical to facilitating and encouraging participation. With this said, you can count me in!

Ruby, if the goal is to make something user-friendly for folks who don't follow politics like the typical OP-reader and poster, then I think a chart that clarifies folks positions on certain issues (perhaps with quotes) would make electoral politics much simpler. It can be difficulty to parse out different candidates' takes on various issues when the issues are locally and not widely understood. So my suggestion would be to create some kind of chart with candidates' names and the top local issues, perhaps with a bit of explanation on those issues. This information could be candidate-supplied; if they don't address certain issues, an attempt could be made to find comments they've made in the past. This might be difficult and time consuming, but it'd be a real help.

It'd also be helpful to have information for every office. I feel like every time I vote, there's always some office or initiative I wasn't expecting.

I was reading your thread above which contains a lot of great ideas and thoughts. Some of this already exists and you can simply point out to your readers so that you don't have to create it yourself. Blogging and politics go together well, perhaps we can work together and the voters and candidates will benifit even more!

Although it doesn't address ALL of your issues/desires, it hits a lot of them!

The following written for and posted at Greensboro 101:
It's about that time of year again! Politics and the first week of July just seem to go together! Believe it or not, North Carolina is fortunate (?) enough to have elections every year. This is an open invitation to the Blogging community to help drive more open discussion and visibility of North Carolina politics and candidates ONLINE !

Beginning July 1st, North Carolina county election boards will open for municipal candidates to file and run for office in the November election. This year is a “Municipal” election year, which means that we will have an opportunity to vote for City officials, and maybe a few local issues. So this is indeed a “LOCAL” election year, where you will have the chance to focus on who (and how) your city, or town will be run for the next couple of years. If you are not happy with the way things have been run, now is the chance to do something about that. If you are satisfied with your current officials, this is a chance to let them see your satisfaction and gratitude by electing them back into office for another couple of years!

Historically; one problem with “Local” elections has been that it is difficult to know who is running in your county or region, and how to find out some information about that candidate. Most candidates will pass out brochures, and have articles in the local newspapers, and increasingly even local candidates will have a simple website to highlight their campaign. The problem is: where do you look to find a list of the local candidates, a “Profile of each candidate, and a link to the candidate's web site? Well, now there is an answer: NC-Politics.com . This is a website that focuses on the local elections right here in NC, and the best part is: IT's FREE to use for both candidates and voters! Now you only need to know one website name (URL) to find all the candidates and their websites, and if a candidate doesn't have a website, this is a way for them to have a FREE web presence…..What could be easier?

NC-Politics.com has recently been upgraded with a lot of changes to make it easier to use and provide more information for voters and candidates. The state has been broken into geographic regions and then further divided by counties and then cities. Candidates can now enter their own “Candidate Profile” directly into our database and change their profile as often as they wish. Each listing allows for the entry of a lot of text, a candidate photo, and provides live links to highlight candidate websites and/or BLOGS . Additionally, there are Local Discussion forums available where voters can post questions or comments for/about candidates, and there are listings of local media and links to LOCAL BLOGS ! We believe BLOGS will be a large voice in local politics and recent events here is “Blogsboro” have demonstrated their effect and power.

We are currently trying to develop a list of BLOGS that contain political commentary or content and associate then with the geographic area or audience that they serve. So this is an open invitation to all Bloggers to review the site and, if you desire a link, just let us know! We are currently finishing up the site updates in preparation for the start of the new election cycle, so now is the time to get us those links ! We are hoping to get the word out this year and really encourage political candidates across the state to have a web presence, YOU can help! Encourage your local candidates to take advantage of this FREE service, and encourage VOTERS to come review the candidates. Blogging and local politics are a natural fit, lets use to power of Blogging and the net to gain more participation in the political process in North Carolina.

We would love to hear from the Blogging community and get your comments for improvement, so please send us your input and comments, and if you would like a link-back just let us know what geographic region to place your link in! Of course, if you like the site, we would appreciate a reciprocal link to NC-Politics.com on your Blog!

Thanks, and we'll be reading you on the web!


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