A successful candidates night begins with careful preparation. An important first step is a carefully written and complete policy statement for your league, which can be publicized and sent in the invitation to candidates and their campaigns. The policy statement should always include the LWV nonpartisanship statement, your policy for candidate criteria, your policy for who cannot appear (i.e., empty chair, unopposed candidates, etc.), your policy for recording, and your rules of the evening. At the regional workshops held already in NYC and Saratoga, attendees shared their concerns and ideas about a policy statement. We are pleased that so many local leagues are either writing their policy for the first time for their candidates nights or reviewing and editing their previous ones. Examples of the policy statements from the LWV of North Country, and LWV of Broome and Tioga County as well as LWV of the Hamptons are being distributed at the regional workshops and will appear on the LWV webpage. The LWV of The Rivertowns has worked diligently on editing the recording policy from the LWV of Rye, Ryebrook and this edited statement is also being distributed at workshops and will appear on the webpage. As leagues have often struggled with unauthorized people taping or editing the tape, it is extremely important for all leagues to include recording in their debate policy. We hope that the examples we provide will help local leagues in writing and adopting their own. Remember also that Road To The Voting Booth Part II has invaluable information on this topic. This year when then is so much negative partisanship, it is more important than ever that our leagues remain the gold standard of how candidates nights are run. As I wrote last month, “If not us, then who?”
Talking about us, who is better to turn out the vote. Most of our local leagues have been holding successful voter registration drives, but then have been frustrated by the low turnout of voters. As you all know, NY ranks 49/50 for voter turnout. This year, local leagues are being asked to put more effort into voter turnout. We are holding ” Get Out the Vote” workshops at regional meetings. One easy idea for local leagues to do is to provide a sign up sheet at voter registration drives, where new registrants who want follow up contact can give their phone number or email address. Another idea is to have these new registrants, especially students, sign a pledge to vote card. Studies have shown both follow up contact and a pledge to vote effective ways of increasing turnout. At the lively regional workshop in Saratoga, attendees tried thinking out of the box ways to energize voters. Everyone agreed that we not only need some new venues like sporting events, concerts and even bars, that we need to expand our usage of social media, and that when we reach out, especially to our young voters, we should make our message fun, cool, and sexy. LWV of Saratoga has used memes to publicize their get out the vote message. These are fun to do and your members can contribute pictures and their ideas. (The LWV of Huntington is using one in our next Voter).
At the workshop we also discussed the need to reach out to groups such as Rock The Vote, to radio stations, and celebrities who can get our message out. Use your imagination! We had fun thinking of new lyrics to old songs that can be used to engage people. Perhaps, you can come up with other ideas to turn out the vote.
The four elections this year; (three primaries and the general election) give us an excellent opportunity. Of course, continue to do what may have worked for you in the past. Know it is important to reach out to low income and minority communities that have low turnout. Remember though to be sure that whatever you do, we must remain nonpartisan. Not only can we not support or oppose a party or a candidate, but we cannot be perceived as supporting or opposing a party or candidate.
By the end of March, we will be starting a google group to discuss both candidate nights and voter turn out. Let’s continue the conversation. We can and will make a difference.