Evan Smith: We need a new approach to voters’ pamphlets

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Commentary / Evan Smith

We’ve all seen complaints here and elsewhere about the Shoreline School ballot measures’ absence from the voters’ pamphlet.

The explanation is that the District would have had to pay its share of printing and distribution of the local edition of the pamphlets, three-fourths of which went to people outside the District.

Instead, the District sent its own mailing titled “Facts – Shoreline School District Levy and Bond Propositions.” This was more cost effective than the voters’ pamphlet, but it lacked the credibility of the pamphlet, with its explanatory statements, fiscal statements, statements from groups favoring and opposing each measure and rebuttals of the statements favoring and opposing each measure.

Also, a publication from the elections office has an appearance of credibility that something with the School District logo can never have.

The County sends the pamphlets by ZIP code because it costs less to have the pamphlets delivered to “Residential Customers” in the specified ZIP codes than it does to mail pamphlets to registered voters' addresses.

Instead, for special elections, let’s have the County prepare individualized voters’ pamphlets that it would mail with ballots. I know this is possible because it happened 15 years ago when Shoreline incorporated. A voters’ guide with statements from every candidate for the interim city council came with the ballots.

An alternative would be an on-line voters’ pamphlet. Every ballot would come with instructions on finding the individualized on-line voters’ pamphlets. Counties already have a way for voters to get an individualized on-line sample ballot. You can type an address and get a sample ballot for someone at that address. Let’s use a similar system for voters’ pamphlet material.

Either of my proposals would cost a jurisdiction like the School District less than paying for printing and distributing pamphlets to everyone in seven ZIP codes, four of which are completely outside the District and the other three partially in the District and partially outside the District. At the same time, they would have the credibility that comes with the County voters’ pamphlet.

An on-line voters’ pamphlet would have another advantage. Groups could amend their statements. This year, a voters’ pamphlet sent Jan. 20 would have had a statement opposing the bond issue coming from the Save-the-Museum group.

If the pamphlet material were on line, the group could have amended its statement after its agreement with the School District. It would have said that as a result of an agreement between the Museum board and the School District, “this group now supports the bond.”

An amended on-line pamphlet could have a statement from a new opposition group.

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