By Lou Segal
On May 13 the League of Women Voters (LWV) put out a statement to Edhat focusing on a disputed timeline with respect to their release form, which was issued to the two candidates for County Superintendent of Schools. Rather than try to figure out on what day the LWV received or sent emails to the Christy Lozano campaign, I would prefer to focus on the rules the LWV ask the candidates to comply with in their forums.
Before hosting a forum, the LWV requires each of the candidates to sign a release form. In the release form, they have various rules the candidates must promise to obey. The LWV sent two release forms to the Lozano campaign, both of which Ms. Lozano objected to. Apparently, Ms. Lozano rejected the first release form, and subsequently informed the LWV that she couldn’t agree to the language in the second release form either, which had been revised to accommodate her.
I have looked closely at these release forms and was startled to see the restrictions they had placed on the candidates. The first LWV release form prohibited any references to the other candidates’ qualifications or activities, meaning it would have been impossible for candidates to examine the record of their opponents and to expose the apparent contradictions between the representations and assertions of their opponents and their actual performance and track record. The exact language from the first release form reads as follows, “I will not, in any way, make reference to any candidates or to another candidate’s qualifications, character, or activities – either positively or negatively”. Subsequently, the LWV relented and revised this sentence to say, “I will not, in any way, make negative reference to other candidate(s) or their personal qualifications or character. I may state my disagreements with their views on issues or proposed legislation, but only to provide examples of issues on which we disagree. My focus will be on my views, not those of the other candidates(s).”
Although the revised language is far more preferable than the overly restrictive language in the first release form, it still is too vague and could potentially limit the candidate’s ability to criticize their opponent’s record. For instance, what does the LWV mean by “negative reference to other candidates(s)”? If a candidate lied or misrepresented his/her own record and the opponent pointed this out, would this be characterized as a “negative reference” by the LWV?
The problem with the language in the LWV release forms is that you can’t have a real debate/forum if you don’t allow the candidates to talk about the opponents’ qualifications, experience, track record and character. In the end, you need to let the candidates answer the questions any way they like within the time constraints, and let the voters decide if the candidates’ answers were factually accurate or baseless personal attacks. I don’t see why we need to replace the reasoning of the voters with the judgement of the LWV. We don’t need a sponsoring organization to decide what they can hear or not hear.
What the LWV wanted was a stilted forum where the candidates responded to a set list of questions with unreasonable rules as to what the candidates can say, making it nearly impossible to explore the candidates’ views and positions on a wide range of issues. If you were going to do it this way, then just send each candidate the questions and have the answers printed on their website or in the local newspaper. The idea should be to bring the candidates together for an open exchange, giving the voters as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision.
It is quite ironic that LWV proudly states on its letterhead that they empower voters. I would say the Santa Barbara chapter disempowers voters with their overly restrictive rules. Even other chapters disagree with the approach taken by local chapter. Another chapter’s website states, “a good format should make it easy for the candidates to discuss the issues and respond to opponents.” Maybe it would be enlightening for the people running the Santa Barbara chapter to consult with their brothers and sisters in the LWV organization as to how to conduct a substantive and informed candidate forum.
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