VIEWPOINT: Candidate forums are at the heart of American politics

CANDIDATES SAID their intention to seek public office. The League of Women Voters of Clallam County would like 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 its role in supporting democracy seriously. Being prepared to face questions when running for office is a sign of a candidate’s willingness to engage with all voters during their term.

As all current elected officials can attest, there is never a time when voters will not want to engage with their representatives. The questions posed to candidates in an 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 to vote. As a core feature of American politics, candidate forums help voters learn more about a candidate and their stance on key issues. The candidates we vote for will make important decisions that affect you, your family and your community. You would never hire someone for a job without interviewing them first, would you?

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

For these reasons, we plan to continue hosting our forums online, which will also allow applicants to participate wherever they are.

Here is a brief overview of how the LWVCLA prepares our candidate forums:

We hold candidate forums a few weeks before the ballots are sent out so that candidate positions are fresh in the minds of voters. Ideally, we schedule the forums in the evening and at a time when we believe most people will be able to see them. As far as possible, we are always willing to adapt to the candidates’ schedules.

As President of the LWVCLA Elections Department, I contact candidates for these competitive races by email and phone, and document all communications. Although 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 categories.

As I reach out to candidates, we also encourage civic groups, political parties, schools and community organizations to submit questions. Affordable housing, homelessness, police, road repairs – if you’ve lived in the county for any length of time, you already know what many questions will cover. The exact wording and order of questions remain confidential with the moderator until the start of the forum.

Our forums are organized 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 as many voters as possible can see the candidates’ unsolicited responses to political questions.

Examples of past forums are available on both of these sites for applicants who wish to see our procedures in action.

Applicants, after filing weekends, should be on the lookout for our outreach emails and phone calls. We persist because voter education is your Local League’s primary mission. The public expects candidates to participate and answer their questions.

If candidates refuse to participate, they deprive the community of an opportunity to educate the public about the candidate’s position on the issues.

Voters, if there is no forum for a competitive position, start asking both candidates why. It’s not because we haven’t tried; this is because one of them refused to discuss his political positions in a public, structured and non-partisan electoral forum of the LWVCLA.

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Nell Clausen has served as Chair of the League of Women Voters Clallam County Voter Services Committee since 2021. More information about LWVCLA is available at lwvcla.org.

Harry L. Blanchard