The Citizens Research Council and WDET (Public Radio in Detroit – 101.9 FM) provided an opportunity for listeners and website visitors to pose questions in anticipation of the November 7 election.
Listener Chuck Fellows wanted to know why all candidates can’t just fill out one questionnaire so he knows who they are.
Some cursory research found that the state elections bureaus (usually within the state departments) serve this role. But, having the government play this role creates first amendment questions. The courts in the past have made it clear that government should play a very limited role in being the arbiter of political information. Additionally, the task would be much more difficult in Michigan with officials elected to more than 1,800 counties, cities, villages, and townships and more than 500 independent school districts.
Usually information about candidates is gathered and shared by not-for-profit organizations. Mr. Fellows’ question referenced the Vote Smart questionnaire.
Vote Smart is a not-for-profit organization located in Des Moines, Iowa, that compiles biographical information, public statements and voting records for candidates and sends them surveys. When the candidates answer Vote Smart questionnaires, the results are put online so voters can compare similar information and not have to wade through the candidates’ own promotional websites.
The irony is that Mr. Fellows referenced Vote Smart just ahead of the election in an odd-numbered year. The Vote Smart it’s questionnaire is only for statewide offices – such as governors, legislators and attorneys general. Not city councils, mayors and clerks, which are what are on Michigan ballots this fall and what Fellows wanted to know about.
The League of Women Voters historically has played an active role in amassing and sharing candidate information. Their Vote411 portal for accessing candidate information is generally available for elections at all levels.
The Citizens Research Council was created with the idea that better information leads to better government. We support all people becoming informed voters before heading to the polls.