07 October 2005

The Local Election Information Deficit.

The best information I've found on the candidates for Denver School Board so far is here, and it is pretty much limited to the candidate's profession, a few endorsements and some pictures. Several Denver city council people have provided lists of the candidates in their news letters, but little more.

As I have noted before on this blog:

There can be no democracy without an informed citizenry. If you don't know who the candidates are, what the issues are and what the state of the nation is, you can't make a meaningful decision at the polls and you are in a poor position to communicate with those who represent you. (Even direct democracies involve some sort of executive branch to carry out the will of the people). Without this information, decisions made in the voting booth are random.

The election is three and a half weeks away. Due to early voting and absentee voting, the voting process is far closer. Yet, the vast majority of us, even those who do Google searches for candidates, are hard pressed to find much more than a professional affiliation, a handful of endorsements, and campaign signs that do nothing more than promote name recognition and say "I have some money and supporters, I must be good." This is not informed decision making.

The amount of information necessary to make a good choice of a school board member far exceeds the amount available to the public. It isn't that the situation in Denver is unusual. If anything, it is the norm. But, it puts the lie to the argument that too much money is spent on campaigns. The problem is not an excess of political advertising, although the source of the funds for that advertising can be problematic. The problem is a lack of good, widely distributed information in a timely manner.

Town meetings have been abolished even in much of New England, because only those who show up get to vote and this creates a skewed electorate. But, the nice part of that style of democracy, so sadly lacking in much of the rest of the nation, is that, at least, you probably will get to hear a brief speech from everyone running, which is far more information than the average voter gets. For all the respect that we give the electoral process, the level of thinking that goes on in the ballot booth often boils down to "I've seen her sign" or "I think I've vote for him because his last name is the same ethnicity as mine." At least in partisan races, the D or R label next to a name is a little more informative than that.

The information deficit is a far more important problem with the grass roots part of our democracy than any of the comparatively petty concerns about the vote counting process (although that does matter in close elections), which has gotten a great deal of play in political debate in the wake of Bush v. Gore, and a rehash of many of same disputes in the 2004 election, particularly in Ohio.

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