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Filling In the Blanks: Suggestions For a Better Voter Guide

February 5, 2002

When I read a candidate's statement in my voter guide, I often wonder how the opposition would respond. Even when equal space is given to each candidate, there's no real dialog, and candidates are forced to guess what their opponent's statements will be when writing their own. The stigma of negative campaigning also makes me feel that I could be missing some important information. Implementing the following guidelines can help to fill the information gap in many voter guides:

  1. Pictures of the candidates should either be omitted or be approximately the size of a postage stamp, and any empty space to the side of a picture should be utilized for candidate information. In a voter guide published by the New York City Campaign Finance Board a few years ago, each picture took up about 11 of the 53 lines available for each candidates statement--a loss of over 20% of potential written information--and some statements were "cut for space requirements." 
  2. I have no problem with candidates providing their own information for voter guides, but I'd pressure them to add some relevant negative remarks about their opposition. They would be provided with personalized lists of their main rivals and asked for what reasons, if any, each is unqualified to hold the office being sought. The guide would mention that candidates were encouraged to include this information. 
  3. Once all candidates have sent in their information, copies would be made and each candidate would be sent the statements of the others. they would then be permitted to submit revised versions of their own statements. This process would continue until all candidates are satisfied, or for as long as the publisher will tolerate. Ideally the result would be a voter guide containing a concise version of the information one would gather from a debate. 

The third idea can also be utilized for advanced preparation of closing comments in debates. Participants in a debate would be required to stick with the last version of their comments that was submitted to the debate organizers. This would be most practical when debate participants have advanced notice of the questions they'll be asked, so they can avoid redundancies in their closing comments.