Voting is now underway in the August 28 Primary Election. But, for individuals who still need more information about the candidates before casting their ballot, the League of Women Voters is doing its part to help.
The main mission of the League is to encourage informed, active participation in government. The non-partisan organization does that through voter registration, voter advocacy, and voter education.
The VOTE411 online voter guide, cross-linked with LWV's BeReadyToVote.org provides information about the individuals who are running for office and where they stand on pertinent issues.
“The thing about it is we provide a forum for candidates to answer pre-selected questions that we’ve come up with and they provide the inputs to the VOTE411 program; we don’t do that,” Hudkins said. “So, in other words, we’re not interpreting what they say, we’re actually giving them the voice to say what they want to say.”
VOTE411 is a comprehensive, interactive resource covering more than 3,800 races and 8,600 candidates across the country, including Florida. Just type in your home address and your own personalized ballot will pop up.
“We cover races all the way from Governor and Senator, down to county commissioners, City of Pensacola Mayor, and so on,” said Hudkins of their effort to help voters be as informed as possible about the candidates.
While many candidates have completed the form, he acknowledges that not all of them have participated.
“We just put a statement in there that the candidate has not yet responded or has chosen not to respond so that the voter knows that the opportunity was there for the candidate to take advantage of,” he explained.
If you can’t find all the information you need about local candidates on the Vote411.org website, there is another option beginning next week.
“Rally 2018 is a candidate forum that WSRE, in partnership with the League of Women Voters, puts together each election season to focus on what are the important issues that we have in our viewing area,” said WSRE station coordinator Kasey Jones, who also serves as co-executive producer Rally.
The program includes federal, state, and local races from Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties. This year, the candidate forum will also include the race for Mayor of Pensacola.
Jones says the public television station has been committed to this kind of election-related programming dating back to the days of its first general manager Eric Smith.
“He decided in 1970 to offer some sort of legislative coverage and even candidate forum for the community; it’s truly a public service to offer this on air,” Jones said. “A lot of folks aren’t able to get out to the candidate forums in the community so from their living room they can watch the forum and vote with confidence and with the full understanding of who the person is; see you know what their body language is and if they truly know what the issues are.”
That brings us back to Ray Hudkins and the local chapters of the League of Women Voters, whose members write the questions for the candidates.
“I’m very proud of the opportunity to participate in that, and we have a significant number of volunteers who spend about six weeks of intensive debate in each of the candidate races,” Hudkins said.
The Pensacola Bay Area chapter provides questions for the races in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, while the Okaloosa chapter provides questions for the races from that county.
“The questions that we pose are clear and to the point such that a candidate will be given an opportunity to let the voters know where they stand on a particular issue,” said Hudkins. “And, we want those questions to be broad-based, while at the same time we obviously tailor questions to the particular race.”
The Primary edition of Rally 2018 will be presented Monday-Wednesday, Aug. 20-22, beginning at 7 each evening.
For the program, I (Sandra Averhart) will be joining producer Mollye Barrows as co-host.
Hudkins says once you’re armed with the information you need, there’s only one thing left to do.
“Go Vote! We have kind of a dismal record in voter turnout and that really is something that is so key to our democracy.”