Nominations are closed and serious campaigning is underway. For most candidates in Hawke’s Bay (including me), “serious campaigning” means two things – put up some signs and write a 150-word profile for the voting guide. Some will leaflet. Candidate meetings are too sparsely attended to have much impact.
So, unfortunately, the most many of us will learn about the candidates is what we glean out of their brief official profiles reprinted in the “Candidate Directory” we receive in the mail with our voting ballots. I call this the “Magic 150 Words” … each candidate’s fateful self-description – who they are, what they’ve done, what they stand for, why they should be elected.
I say “unfortunately” because: a) 150 words aren’t much to work with to sell one’s fabulous qualities (try it yourself); and b) there aren’t heaps of other resources to consult (BayBuzz is trying to fix that).
So back to the Magic 150 Words.
Although they are so very important, we don’t actually get much opportunity to scrutinize them. They show up in our mail starting September 20th, and eighteen days later our ballots must be handed in. In fact, about half of voters will post their ballots within the first week! For those voters, the campaign will be over already in that first week!
Doesn’t that place huge value on those 150 words? And, consequently, shouldn’t they therefore be credible?
Effectively, a candidate can claim anything about his or her background, accomplishments or positions without fear of being called out. Unless the claim is so blatantly false or erroneous – “I was the former prime minister” – that it smacks our election officers between the eyes (and is therefore challenged before publication), it will be printed as gospel.
Of course, we’re all inclined to trust the candidates to not actually lie to us. But how about simply misleading us?
How about the Councillor – or challenger – who makes it sound like he or she has been a passionate champion of the environment or budget restraint, or ran a successful business (or whatever), when a careful reading and debate of the actual record would prove otherwise? As it’s now handled, there’s insufficient time for that scrutiny or debate to occur.
Believe me, a re-read of the 2007 Candidate Directory profiles of some Councillors who stood then and now serve would raise some eyebrows!
There’s a simple remedy. And that would be to publish all of the candidate statements now. The Council election officers have them in hand. And there are not so many that the task would be burdensome.
They should put those statements on Councils’ websites now, so they can be scrutinized by other candidates, informed individuals, and the media. That would surely help stir up some debate. It would help bring positive public attention to lesser known candidates – generally the non-incumbents – who might deserve far more consideration. And it might even enhance general interest in the elections!
Think about it … “Did you read Henrietta Schmertzler’s profile? I never realized she was so active in the community. And I like her ideas. I’ll email it to you.” Soon there’s a boomlet for Henrietta, who might otherwise go unnoticed, as voters hesitantly fill out their ballots at their dining table in solitary bewilderment … wondering, who in god’s name are these people? Or, should I believe that?
To advance this idea, BayBuzz asked each Hastings mayoral candidate for his Magic 150 Words, to publish on the BayBuzz website. Each said Yes. They’re now in our Election 2010 section, listed by candidate. Or you can read them in one document here.
Why would any candidate not want to share his or her official statement well in advance of the voting period? I can’t think of a good reason … can you?
I hope our Councils’ elections officers will rise to the challenge to publish the profiles now. But while they’re scratching their heads, I call upon all candidates to make their Magic 150 Words available to the public today. Open your raincoats!
One thing I can promise you. We’ll do our best at BayBuzz to review the profiles carefully when they do appear … and sound off if anything seems amiss.
Hmmm! Maybe that’s a reason in some minds to not publish them early!
Practicing what I preach, my Magic 150 Words are online here.