On this week's "In The Public Interest," 89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area's Nancy Schewe about VOTE411.org, the online voter guide, and the paper copy that is available in newspapers and at libraries. They discuss VOTE411 history and how to use it effectively for August 7th primary, which is only a few weeks away.
Nancy Schewe joined the League in 2008 and was elected to the Board shortly thereafter, and soon became president. She served as president from 2012 until May of this year. She also served on the state board of the League of Women Voters of Michigan for two years.
VOTE411.org is an online voter guide. You will find information on candidates and proposals that will be on their specific ballot for their voting district. It includes national races, such as president, US senators and representatives, and, in midterm races such as this year, state races for governor, state senators and representatives, and local races, such as mayors thru township treasurers, and library boards.
The League of Women Voters has had an online voters’ guide available since 1999. In 2011, The League of Women Voters paid to use the e.thePeople’s system to create the voter’s guide, instead of using and maintaining our own system. We paid ETP to use their system until 2017, when ETP gifted us the software. Our local league began using it in 2012.
VOTE411.org was created to provide more information for more people by creating a website that was more convenient for voters to access.
We continue to provide a printed voter guide to libraries and election clerks across the state of Michigan. It is also distributed through the Detroit newspapers. However, the guide includes only national and state races and proposals. Providing printed local information is enormously challenging, particularly when there are fewer and fewer local newspapers to help. And, of course, there is the expense and wastefulness of people using a printed guide and then throwing it away, hopefully by recycling it.
The entire VOTE411 system is produced at three levels. LWVUS does the national level. LWVMI does the state candidates and proposals. And the local Leagues, such as LWVAAA, do the local candidates and proposals.
LWVAAA provides information on every race in Washtenaw County, from county commissioners through local school boards and township treasurers. And this year for the first time, we are able to include Livingston and Lenawee Counties because we have two new geographical units (fledgling Leagues) in those counties.
We send out invitations to candidates via emails, which include a link through which they can directly enter their responses to the questions we have posed. We also ask some basic biographical information about the length of time in the area, education/occupations, and they can include a photo if they choose.
When we receive the responses, we do a quick check to make sure that no one is using abusive language about an opponent or anything offensive. Other than that, we publish the responses as written. We make no changes in wording or spelling. If a candidate asks us to make a change for them because they have discovered an error, we certainly will make the change. The entire entry is the candidate's own words.
There is also information on the site about all ballot proposals that voters must decide: the exact proposal language that will be on the ballot, if the issue is controversial, and there are supporting and opposing groups. We will include both pro and con arguments, directly quoting the literature of each side. We never present arguments unless both sides are represented. These arguments are headed "Supporters Say" and "Opponents Say."
VOTE411.org is one-stop shopping. You will find information on all of the candidates and proposals on this one site. There is plenty of information on national and some state candidates in the news, but essentially none on your county commissioner, your township clerk, school board and library board, and drain commissioner. And judges.
We mustn’t forget those judges. These are the people who will be making decisions that affect your life in very direct ways. You need to know who they are, what their priorities are, and what are their various experiences. We ask those questions and the candidates' responses are available for you to read.
However, what makes VOTE411 unique is that there is absolutely no spin. Facebook posts and Twitter messages are all aimed at either helping or hurting a particular candidate. A bedrock principle of LWV is to provide balanced, non-partisan information. We work diligently to abide by that principle.
When voters log into VOTE411.org and enter their address, they can choose between "Show Districts" and "Show Races." "Show Districts" will tell them which US and State House districts they are in as well as which county district and which city ward, township, or village. When voters select "Show Races," it shows the races and candidates that will be on their own ballots.
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