Sunday, April 11, 2021
April 11, 2021

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From the Newsroom: How we’ll cover local elections

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Signs of spring:

• There’s a huge line at the garden center.

• I am going through a lot of allergy medication.

• Political campaigns are being launched.

It was the third item on the list that brought me to Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey’s annual “Winning Ways to Run for Office” workshop for political candidates. In two information-packed hours, guest speakers cover everything from complying with campaign funding disclosure requirements to local sign regulations. Some of the speakers had great tips on campaign strategy, too.

My role was to talk about how to interact with the news media.

The first question is whether to interact with the news media. The short answer is yes. Every year, we get a few candidates who simply don’t talk to us. I guess this a purposeful decision, but I don’t understand the strategy. I do, however, see the results: These candidates almost always finish in last place.

So that’s my first bit of advice: Candidates should use the news media to publicize themselves and their campaigns. Paid media — signs, mailers — are very expensive. People won’t vote for people unless they know about them and what they stand for. News interviews are an ideal way for candidates to sell themselves.

At The Columbian, we generally try to write a story about candidates when they declare for offices such as city council or school board. For uniformity, we generally play these stories on the bottom half of Page C1. If the candidate can provide us with a portrait, or if we have a recent one on file, it will accompany the story. And, please, I told the candidates, no selfies!

The next time the candidates are likely to see their name in the paper is filing week, which begins Monday. We will do a story on Monday for Columbian.com (Tuesday for print) with all the candidates’ names, focusing on any surprises and the larger offices, such as Vancouver City Council or Evergreen school board. We’ll update our list throughout the week, and we’ll do a wrap-up story after filings close on Friday afternoon.

If there are more than two candidates for an office, they’ll face off in the Aug. 6 primary. Since the ballots go out July 19, our reporters will be contacting candidates and writing stories in the first two weeks of that month. These stories will include some basic biographical information. The reporter will ask where they stand on various issues they will face if they win the race, so candidates should try to think up some answers in advance. We don’t care if a school board candidate loves carbon taxes, or if a city council candidate thinks the U.S. should be on the gold standard, but we will almost certainly ask about school levies or road maintenance.

The process will repeat itself in early October, before ballots go out Oct. 18 for the Nov. 5 general election.

We don’t interview unopposed candidates, and with 94 offices on the ballot in Clark County this year, we might not even be able to write about every contested race. In that case, we will prioritize and try to cover the races with the greatest number of eligible voters.

We try to get the bulk of these stories in the paper very near the time ballots are mailed, so you will be able to read about candidates and issues before you vote.

This is about all of the coverage that smaller races will get in The Columbian. But, we will be watching campaign disclosure filings, looking for complaints to the Public Disclosure Commission, and seeing if new issues emerge. Any of those could trigger a follow-up.

Of course, I am only talking about news coverage here. As I wrote about in a column last July, it is also likely that our editorial board will meet with the candidates in major races and issue its recommendations.

If the signs already going up along the roads are any indication, it’s going to be a busy election season. Candidates — and our readers — can be sure we will be there to cover it.

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