Filling out an election ballot can be puzzling when you don’t know much about the candidates.

Many people just vote the party line. Many don’t vote at all.

I like to believe that most people want to exercise their right to vote, and want all the information they can get before checking off those boxes and dropping the ballot in the mail.

That information is often scarce at the local level. That’s why a big shout out should go to the Astoria chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which organized a forum earlier this month at Astoria High School so that local residents could get to know the candidates better.

Almost all of the candidates for Clatsop County commissioner, District 32 state representative and the 1st Congressional District, even those from the Portland area, made the journey to Astoria for the opportunity to meet the public. U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici could not make it, but was represented by Astoria Mayor Arline LaMear, who read a statement on her behalf.

Trish Garner, the AAUW’s state public policy director, served as the moderator, and had the unenviable task of laying down the law when candidates rambled past their allotted time. She did it deftly, with humor and a light touch.

The list of AAUW members to thank includes Sara Meyer, Liz Bartell, Pam Alegria, Jan Horning, Jan Nybakke, Roz Edelson, Rosalie McCleary, Janet Weidman, Ellen Silverman and Robin Rodgers.

Graham Nystrom, the station manager at Coast Community Radio, recorded the forum and has made the audio available to listen to anytime on the KMUN website.

Many thanks also to the Astoria School District for making the high school auditorium available for the event.

Full disclosure: The Daily Astorian co-sponsored the forum and participated in some of the initial planning. But it would not have happened without the drive and determination of the civic-minded women in the local AAUW chapter.

As someone who just moved to the area last year, I found the forum particularly useful. I was able to associate names with faces and voices.

The candidates ranged from savvy political veterans to newcomers to the public stage. They had two minutes to introduce themselves. Then they had a minute to answer each of several questions from the audience, posed by Garner.

Two minutes might not seem like much, but it can seem like an eternity when the microphone is passed your way and all eyes are on you. I had brief flashbacks to high school drama club, when I had to speak on stage for the first time. These folks seemed like Shakespearean actors in comparison.

And two minutes is an actual eternity to today’s attention-deficit-disorder audiences. Years of producing news video, for example, has taught me that you have 10 seconds to grab a viewer’s attention before they start scrolling to the next item on their smartphone. And even if you convince them to keep watching, they’re going to bail after a minute anyway.

That’s why newspaper writers try to pack as many details as possible into the first couple of paragraphs of a story — few people read to the end. That’s why television reporters will boil a 15-minute interview into a 15-second sound bite.

Many people in the audience said afterwards that they would have liked more time for the eight county commission candidates, whose panel was compressed into 45 minutes. That’s great feedback, which I’m sure the AAUW will take into account next time we do one of these.

I applaud everyone who took the time to speak and to attend.

The county delivered ballots to the post office in Portland on Wednesday. They should appear in your mailboxes in the next few days. If you haven’t received one by next Wednesday, May 2, give the clerk’s office a call at 503-325-8511.

Completed ballots must be mailed in time to arrive at the Clatsop County Elections Division no later than 8 p.m. May 15. Postmark does not count. You can turn in your ballot at an official drop site location to make sure it gets there on time.

Make sure to read Friday’s newspaper for preview stories on the county commissioner, state representative and congressional races, plus a four-page voters guide featuring statements from the candidates.

We will publish endorsements for all three of those races next week. We plan to wait until the general election in the fall to weigh in on the governor’s race and other statewide contests.

Listen to the forums at

Jim Van Nostrand is editor of The Daily Astorian.

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