Choices easier at the ballot with help from the newspaper

Deciding who to vote for on Election Day is going to be a more difficult task for me this time around.

For the past six election seasons, I’ve sat on The Herald’s editorial board and interviewed political candidates in person. I took for granted how much I knew about these people. It was easy to see how well their political ideals fit with mine.

Now, I’m on the news side of the paper, completely removed from the candidate endorsement process.

With the rest of the voters, I’m wondering who are these candidates? What do they stand for? Are their campaign promises real or made for TV?

I’ll join everyone else who is trying to get to know their candidates through TV ads, political flyers, the voters guide, debates — and the newspaper.

I’ll be relying on The Herald’s news coverage more than ever to get the facts.

Fortunately, Dave Cuillier, city editor, has big plans for giving voters the information they need to make educated decisions on Nov. 7.

Election planning started in July in The Herald newsroom. Before we could come up with a complete plan, we wanted to find out what issues matter to readers and what they need to know to make informed choices. Several reporters and editors, including myself, spent a day in communities throughout Snohomish and Island counties talking to readers about what’s important to them. Two weeks ago, we went back to see if the issues had changed. The sentiments remained the same.

We heard consistent messages from Langley to Lynnwood. People are concerned with issues like the environment and growth, taxes, health care, campaign finance, education and transportation. When it comes to candidates, they also want credible information such as voting records.

The feedback from our community surveys will find its way into daily stories about candidates, as well as larger-issue stories. The plan, which gets into high gear next Sunday, starts with a comprehensive story about the trapping initiative, I-713. The days following will include stories about the various legislative, congressional and statewide races, and the rest of the initiatives.

Eleven Herald reporters will play a role in covering local elections. Susanna Ray, the political writer, will take the lead coordinating the coverage to make sure there’s a balance of daily and big picture stories. She’ll also keep tabs on the political landscape of Snohomish and Island counties, as well as writing about several races.

Herald writers will focus on the local stories like PUD commissioner and bond issues, as well as the local legislative and congressional districts. Since the U.S. Senate race features local candidate Maria Cantwell of Mountlake Terrace, Ray will follow that one too. We’ll leave it to The Associated Press to provide news on the statewide and national races, unless a candidate visits Snohomish or Island counties.

Cuillier is looking for these stories to offer perspective and characterizations of the races.

"There’s a fine line between giving perspective and editorializing," Cuillier said. But it’s helpful for voters to read a comparison on the candidates’ background and level of experience.

Where voting records are available, they’ll likely be included in stories. Cuillier wants to give readers the information they need beyond the rhetoric and soundbites they hear on TV ads.

During the week before Election Day, expect to see in-depth stories on each of the main issues we heard throughout the community. From taxes to transportation, these issues will surely be debated on the state and national levels. This is your chance to learn more about them, and hear specific plans for improvement. The package also will include an easy-to-scan grid to quickly summarize what each candidate thinks on the issues.

In the end, it’s up to voters to utilize as much information as possible and to determine who’s the best candidate for them. In a perfect world, all voters would see their candidates in public forums, call or e-mail them to discuss the issues, read the voters guide and the newspaper and vote on Nov. 7.

We don’t have any control over how many of you do all of these things. But at least you can look to The Herald to give a synopsis on the races, some perspective on the candidates and a complete overview of the issues that politicians will be voting on if they get elected.

I know I’ll be taking some extra steps to get educated on the candidates this year. Using The Herald’s information along the way will be one of them.

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