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Burgess: Why Are So Many Candidates So Hard To Find?

And, why should voters care when so many of the candidates don't even pretend to be accessible?

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Burgess: Why Are So Many Candidates So Hard To Find?

Having tried, and all-to-often failed, at reaching candidates for public office at all levels of government, I feel I can say this with some authority: A surprising number of you are completely mysterious and unreachable.

I have just completed my second election cycle compiling a Voters Guide for NUVO. I am very proud of the work I did for these guides, and I truly thank the many candidates in both elections who took the time to thoughtfully respond to the issues their constituents care about the most. The first time was during the 2018 midterm elections, when candidates from 30 federal, state, and county-wide races answered questions from our readers. The second time was for the just-completed 2019 Marion County municipal primary election, in which candidates for Indianapolis City-County Council and mayor did the same.

During that first cycle, I loudly complained about several unresponsive Republican congressional candidates, not the least of which was now-Rep. Greg Pence. These were amazingly aloof politicians given the prestigious positions they sought, but I will give them credit for at least giving the appearance of offering various forms of communications with voters including Facebook, Twitter, website, phone, and mail.

The municipal primary election proved to be even more of a challenge. Many candidates had no website whatsoever. Some had a Twitter account from a previous election that was locked. Some had personal Facebook pages, but not ones for their campaigns.

Others had none of the above. I ended up using the information provided by the Marion County Election Board to call the ones with working phone numbers, and sending paper mail versions of the questions to those without them. One of these letters was even returned to us by the Post Office as “not deliverable as addressed.”

I ran into the same problem researching candidates in my own district during the primary election. I live in Noblesville, and there were two candidates running for my city council district. Neither had an official website or a Twitter account. Only one of them had an official campaign Facebook page, and the other one just had a personal page.

If I'm a journalist, and if I'm having this much trouble finding basic biographical information about you, how are the rest of the citizens you seek to represent supposed to make an informed decision?

Email and social media accounts are free to set up, so there's literally no excuse for not having one. And, being that it's 2019, if you can't create even a basic campaign website, how do I even know you're even competent enough to do the job?

It frequently upsets me when I see such widespread voter apathy and low turnout rates. The fact that Americans have a chance to freely elect our leaders is a rare and wonderful thing, and those who never vote spit in the face of those who fought and sometimes died to secure that right.

But, how can I convince the voters to care when so many of the candidates don't even pretend to be accessible?

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.

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(3) comments

Leslie Graves

Rob, thanks for this great column.

At Ballotpedia.org, which covers elections around the country, our staff feels very much the same way. It is getting harder, not easier, to find the voices and views of candidates so we can share them with our readers.

It occurred to me over the last few months that one factor that could explain this is that decades ago -- in the days of very robust local newspapers and robust civic organizations that sponsored debates and often voter guides -- candidates developed a certain set of expectations about how they would make themselves known to the public.

* They would answer whatever survey the local newspaper sent out
* If a civic organization (such as the local League of Women Voters) was doing a voter guide, they would answer that survey
* They would pick-and-choose from the ideological/special interest surveys
* If a local radio or TV station was doing a "meet the candidates" series, they would do that

These ideas about which of those things you must do, versus the optional ones, are handed down as traditions from election cycle to election cycle.

I think that what happened is that the traditions and understandings within campaigns about what you really need to do to get your voice out there hasn't changed, while the means-and-mechanisms for getting your voice out HAVE changed: Your local newspaper mostly doesn't do anymore what they used to do and even if they do, your sense that they have much of an audience has declined so you have less incentive to fill it out; the civic organizations have declined in many areas; local TV/radio hardly does local candidate coverage anymore.

So those "voice" opportunities have declined, and the candidates/old-hands-at-campaigns haven't yet figured out that they have to do OTHER things to make up for that loss of voice.

But it's just a theory.

Thanks for your insight and to Nuvo for working hard to find those candidate voices, even when it's pretty darned tough.

GB Landrigan

I searched for the usual IndyStar voter guide and found it apparently doesn't exist anymore. I was pleased to find yours. Like you, I'm miffed that so many of the candidates just didn't bother. Good work.

Rob Burgess Staff
Rob Burgess

Thanks so much for reading and responding! It means a lot to know you found it useful.