Should election process join 21st Century?

 
 
Posted1/18/2015 1:01 AM

This is the part of being a newspaperperson that probably no one relishes.

Candidates who want to be your local mayors, city council/village board members or serve on your school, park or library boards filed last month to run for office. We wrote numerous stories about that. But in the past few weeks, the real grunt work has begun: Our reporting and editing team has been tasked with obtaining the email addresses of all candidates in contested races. Email, you see, is a convenient, 21st Century way of reaching people. Our goal is to email questionnaires to all the candidates, and publish their answers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As the April 7 election draws near, this -- may I call it herculean -- effort to give all candidates a forum to express their views may be the only way you'll hear from the preponderance of candidates.

Hey, you may scoff, what's so hard about collecting a few email addresses? For one thing, there are more candidates than you might imagine. This past week, questionnaires were emailed to 398 candidates in municipal races alone.

There is a second, and really annoying, impediment. Election law requires candidates to provide only their names and mailing addresses when they file paperwork with their local government. Obviously, we don't have the bodies to staff every last one, so reporters are now calling said offices to try to procure candidate email addresses. Sometimes this goes just fine.

Most of our bigger governments are familiar with our needs and are happy to accommodate our request. But when it comes to our smaller, less-visible levels of government, well, let's just say the Daily Herald's scrutiny -- and by this I mean wanting to ask the candidates a few relevant questions -- isn't always appreciated.

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DuPage Editor Bob Smith recounts his experience: "I've had a few conversations this month with library administrators who are reluctant, or refuse, to share home email addresses or telephone numbers for library board candidates -- including incumbents," he said.

I've also found that some of these local clerks won't give out phone numbers or any additional info out of some misguided instinct to protect the privacy of our potential future public servants. Ponder that contradiction for a moment.

To be sure, the vast majority of people running for local office really do want to share their views with the public via the local newspaper, but I predict we'll discover the usual spate of "stealth candidates," as I've come to call them, whom we simply won't be able to track down.

Gov. Bruce Rauner just issued an executive order requiring the online posting of salaries of most city, township and county employees. I have an additional suggestion: How about a law requiring local governments to join the 21st Century and require candidates' contact info during the filing process. And post candidate email addresses online.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I should mention there was a ray of hope in some of the discussions Bob Smith recounted.

He asked one official who balked at getting the contact info how could candidates possibly know what people want if they're unavailable to the public? "I never thought of it that way," the woman told Bob. "Let me see what I can do."

"And,' he added, "she got me the information I needed."

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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