You walk into the ballot booth on Election Day. You look at the ballot, possibly for the first time. Maybe you’re familiar with the top of the ticket, followed the news coverage, seen the ads on TV, perhaps even listened to a debate. You have a pretty good idea of who’s running, and where they stand on the issues.
But what happens when you work your way down the ballot? What do you know about the candidates who aren’t necessarily in the spotlight? What are their positions on the issues that matter most to you?
You’re not alone. A Youngstown State University first-time voter said in a recent Your Voice Ohio dialogue: “I voted in my first primary – something I thought was super interesting. The ballot came. I was out of town – my hometown is Cincinnati – and I researched every issue and every person. I searched for three hours, found only two candidates in local news sources. There should be more information about local races because they matter.”
Filling the void of information
Your Voice Ohio wants to help with that, though candidates haven’t made that easy. Your Voice Ohio is the country’s largest state media collaborative with more than 50 media organizations. We joined forces to try to represent your concerns and answer your questions in the 2020 election.
During the summer, Your Voice Ohio commissioned a poll to find out what issues were most on the minds of Ohioans. Getting this information provided a better idea of the reporting on the campaigns that would best serve you. Then, we took your issues directly to the candidates themselves to create an online, interactive map that allows you to find their answers directly.
Here are the questions:
1. COVID-19 was the number one issue. What actions do you think state government should be taking to address the health and safety of Ohioans during this pandemic and in the future?
2. Next was government dysfunction and issues with leadership. On what issues do you think you could help lead Ohioans to unity, and what actions would you take to do that?
3. The third-highest concern focused primarily on racial equity and unrest. What do you think are the most effective methods of achieving racial equity that might also address unrest and a fair criminal justice system?
4. The fourth-most frequently mentioned concern was the economy. Even before the severe impact of the pandemic, Ohio struggled to recover from the 2008 recession and two decades of automation that stunted economic vibrancy. What would a vibrant Ohio look like to you, and what are some of the most important steps you would take to achieve that vibrancy?
5. What is your campaign’s website?
Candidate responses to voters’ top concerns: https://www.wksu.org/government-politics/2020-10-21/a-well-informed-public-serves-democracy-heres-where-your-candidates-stand-on-the-issues-that-matter-most-to-you
The steps we took
The process has been a deliberate one. With the top four issues in hand, the next step was to put together a list of the more than 200 candidates on the ballot for the Ohio legislature and the 16 Ohio seats in the U.S. House of Representatives along with the contact information for their campaigns. The work was divided among the newsrooms of WYSO, WOUB and WKSU. Beginning in late August, over the course of several weeks, our producers tried to track down the information, and I emphasize, tried. In some cases, all we were able to track down were the email addresses for the legislative offices for some of the incumbents running for re-election; campaign web sites often did not provide contact information. In a number of cases, no one ever got back to us, despite multiple attempts at making contact.
Toward the end of September, we proceeded with a first round of emails to every candidate for whom we had contact information. These emails from me contained a note about our efforts, the request to fill out a brief survey of their positions on your top issues and a link to an online form. There have been subsequent attempts to connect with the campaigns to ask them to share their views. As of the second week of voting, no Congressional candidate has responded, and only one in five candidates for the Ohio General Assembly. At this time, we continue our efforts to get this information. If you are a candidate and have run into difficulty filling out our form, please contact Jonathan Wong with the Jefferson Center, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit that has supported the efforts of Your Voice Ohio since it began in 2015. You can reach Jonathan at email@example.com to help you with this.
A vote for democracy
Because, just as we’ve pointed out in the emails sent to the candidates asking them to participate in this survey, the media partners Your Voice Ohio will appreciate it.
More importantly, so will you, the voters.