Ever picked up your ballot, looked through the list of candidates and wondered who to vote for?
If so, you are not alone.
When given a choice between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or a third-party presidential candidate, it’s likely that you’ll have an opinion.
But what if you live in an area of Clatsop County with an elected sewer board or fire district commission? You might know some candidates — after all, they are your neighbors. But they may just be names.
One way to help remedy that is a voters’ pamphlet.
On even-numbered years, Clatsop County puts together a useful publication that highlights candidates and the issues on your ballot. Often this is inserted in the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet, one of the most valuable inventions this state has ever known.
Starting in 2001, Clatsop County also provided voters’ pamphlets in odd-numbered election years, which didn’t include primaries or general elections for state and federal candidates, at a cost of more than $5,000. But it discontinued the practice two years later because many candidates — apparently leery of fees and paperwork — did not submit information for inclusion.
These odd-year elections feature school boards and the Port of Astoria, which will always be featured in The Daily Astorian and on local radio. But unless there is a controversy, the smaller boards and commissioners are unlikely to rise to any prominence and may just have their names listed in print in the week before an election.
Some engaged citizens want to change that. The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners seems close to a consensus that it’s a good idea — for just about every election.
Melissa Ousley, Mary Beth Cottle and Andy Davis spoke at a recent county meeting about their experiences, going door to door in recent campaigns and discovering residents were uninformed about grassroots races. Tiffany Mitchell, George McCartin and Laurie Caplan weighed in with their support, too.
Commissioner Lianne Thompson agreed, saying that an involved and informed electorate provides the impetus for candidates to step forward to serve their communities.
The discussion gave us cause for optimism. This revival of interest has County Manager Cameron Moore and Clerk Tracie Krevanko reviewing how to make it happen. Krevanko has many years experience with elections in her prior job with Washington County, which will benefit the North Coast when this is implemented.
The price tag varies according to the scale of the election, and by Oregon law the costs are passed on to the agencies whose board members are being elected. In addition to their filing fee, candidates can opt to pay extra to have their photo and supporting materials published in the pamphlet.
American-style democracy is the greatest successful experiment in the history of Western civilization. It’s admired around the world for its openness.
But informed and engaged citizens are essential for this system to flourish. And, as speakers pointed out at the discussion last month, voting is a learned habit (and a good one).
It comes with a cost, of course. But we believe every dollar spent in this area is an investment in two important assets: displaying transparency in government and creating informed voters. Both will always crucially important to the civic well-being of our nation. Apathy, reflected in low voter turnouts, is never healthy.
Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan summed it up best: “We are at a point in our democracy that we really need to do all we can to encourage voters.”