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News / Clark County News

From the Newsroom: My ballot is looking at me

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: October 28, 2023, 6:01am

Have you voted yet? I got my ballot in the mail a week or so ago, tossed it on the desk in the kitchen, and there it sits, looking at me every time I go to the refrigerator. I’ll fill it out sometime next week. This year, I’m voting for school board members, a port district commissioner and a fire district commissioner, who is running unopposed.

While these local offices typically attract a tiny fraction of the interest accorded a presidential contest, or even the one for the 3rd Congressional District seat, these are the officials that have a lot of say in what happens in your neighborhood and to your property tax bill. If I need to dial 911, I want to know that a well-run fire district will promptly send excellent emergency responders. I want to know that my port district is attracting well-paying local jobs while balancing fiscal responsibility. And even though I am too old to have kids in school, I want a school board that makes sure children are getting a well-rounded education so they can pay my Social Security!

That is why our metro reporters spend a lot of time talking with the candidates and writing pre-election stories. Our goal is to write about every contested office and every ballot measure in Clark County by Nov. 1. The stories have been appearing in The Columbian and on our website for the last couple of weeks. If you missed any, you can read them at columbian.com/elections.

We are contemplating one change to our election coverage. Rather than write a lot of little results stories about each race, (what we call a swarm), we’re going to do one big roundup story of all the races, plus the usual results rail. This will allow us to present a better variety of local news in our Wednesday newspaper, rather than just election stories.

Unless I am misreading the situation, there isn’t much excitement around this year’s midterm election. I haven’t seen a lot of campaign signs or received many mailers, which is consistent with the fact that most candidates are reporting to the Public Disclosure Commission that they haven’t raised any money. Outside of Ridgefield school board candidate Amber Baker, who has waged a very good campaign of letters to the editor, we aren’t hearing much from readers about the election.

Why is this year so quiet? What does that say about our community? Columbian reporter Shari Phiel is looking into this for a story to appear next Saturday.

If our politics seem muted, it’s hardly unusual. A Gallup poll released this week reports 32 percent of Americans say they follow news about national politics “very closely,” compared with 42 percent in 2020 and 38 percent in 2021. The current figure aligns with the long-term trend, Gallup noted.

Not surprisingly, older and more educated people pay the most attention to politics. That’s the same group that reads newspapers.

Reading the story to you

Speaking of reading, on Wednesday we unveiled a new text-to-audio feature on columbian.com. Thanks to a partnership with a company called Instaread, stories now include a box with a button just above the first paragraph of a story. Click on the button, and a computerized voice will read the story to you. You can even fast-forward or rewind.

We’ve wanted to offer this service for a while, but it was too expensive. This new partnership gets around that by selling a small ad next to the button.

I think audio could be useful to people with low vision, or who are multitasking.

Unlike the first generation of computerized text readers, the voice sounds more natural. At the moment, there are actually several voices, as we are testing them to see which one readers prefer. A posh-sounding voice with an English accent is not under consideration, to Web Editor Amy Libby’s disappointment.