Another Election Day is nigh upon us. Saugus.net is again running its regular "Questions to the Candidates" feature, in which candidates get to answer a small representative selection of questions taken from a larger pool submitted by Saugus.net readers (throughout the year by e-mail or in person on Saugus Founders' Day). Strict word limits are enforced to ensure fairness and maintain readability.
Prior to yesterday, average readership of the answers was over 500 per day. There were over 900 readers of the answers yesterday alone. I suspect that today and tomorrow there will be even more readers as people check out how the various candidates answered their questions prior to voting.
I'm usually amazed at how few candidates actually respond considering how many people read the answers. Plus, it's one of the very few ways a candidate for Town Meeting or Housing Authority can get a message to the public; there are certainly no candidates' nights or public debates for such offices. If candidates took better advantage of such free resources, they wouldn't have to be as reliant on expensive (and sometimes obnoxious) methods of getting their name out (like political signs). Some elections have seen as high as 75% participation (and more than once there's been a definite correlation between answering and winning); this election though looks like it may have the lowest response rate ever. In the extremely competitive School Committee race, only about a third of the candidates have participated (as of this writing, answers will continue to get posted through tomorrow). Only one of the candidates for Selectman has participated!
The Saugus Public Library provides free access to Internet-enabled computers for those who need them, plus answers are accepted by FAX, snail mail, and drop slot in the Town Hall, too, so it's pretty hard for a candidate to argue that he or she couldn't submit answers. Likewise, the feature has been being held for local elections since '99, so it's pretty hard for a candidate to argue that he or she had never heard about the "Questions to the Candidates". While the more cynical might suggest that candidates don't like answering questions in a relatively permanent forum (one can still read the answers posted in '99, for example), I tend to think it's more a case of candidates either not realizing that people read stuff online or not caring about that particular demographic. A lot of Saugonians are technophobes and/or Luddites.
Whatever the reason, you can read the answers from the candidates who cared enough to answer in the "Questions to the Candidates" section.
This year saw the introduction of another free online resource that some candidates have been utilizing: the Saugus political forum. While this forum has been pretty busy lately, it's again surprising how few candidates have posted (although as I write this about half of the posts there were written by candidates).
Another point to mention about this election is the heavy out-of-town involvement in the Selectmen's race. In particular, I've gotten a couple of mailings about a blog I'd first noticed via the Saugus listing on Technorati. Apparently this blog has also been advertised in some of the local newspapers, and the only name that appears anywhere on any of their literature apparently tracks back to a fellow in Cambridge. Why is a Cantabrigian getting involved in a Saugus local election? The only answer that comes screaming to my mind is self-interest. While the presumably out-of-town blogger is now claiming to be a Saugonian (although still without having the backbone to back it up with a Saugus name) there are a couple big clues to the contrary in addition to the involvement of a Cantabridgian.
- The writing in all of their literature is written from the point of view of someone not local to Saugus. They write things like "your tax dollars" rather than "our tax dollars" as a true Saugonian would.
- They apparently didn't even realize that this established Saugus blog (which is open to all Saugonians and currently has a dozen members) that you're now reading exists, and since it has been referenced by most of the larger local web sites and newspapers in town, most locals are now aware of it.
- They also apparently didn't realize that the above mentioned Saugus political forum exists. This is suspect for the same reason as listed in #2.
Of course, it may just be that the presumably out-of-town blogger knew of this open Saugus blog and the Saugus political forum and just chose not to participate in them out of fear of getting responses. After all, unlike his blog, this blog and the political forum are completely open to public discussion and public comments.