"More forums, and earlier"

"That guy scared the hell out of me!”It might not have been the typical audience response after last week’s candidate forum for city council hopefuls. But it was certainly dynamic – and no, we’re not making it up – and it suggests that there is still considerable value to lining up our aspirants for public office in a room somewhere and letting them have their say.We offer these thoughts as we mull the changing landscape of political campaigns. Time was when everything was geared toward a single date – this year, Nov. 2 – when voters turned out en masse to express their preferences at the polls. Clearly, with the burgeoning popularity of absentee voting, even among non-absentees, that’s no longer the case. More than half of Kitsap County residents requested mail-in ballots this year. Voting is now a three-week process.But voters still want to make an informed choice, and forums remain an excellent vehicle for that information. At the forum Tuesday, we spoke with several people whose views were dramatically changed – perhaps one candidate or another revealed new insights, better presentation, a more coherent message. As noted above, one attendee reacted with particular alarm to a candidate’s comments. Another reader – look back to our last two issues if you didn’t notice – publicly endorsed one city council candidate in the first Election ‘99 special, then turned around and endorsed his opponent the next. All of that is just as it should be. And we believe such forums are even more important now that Bainbridge Island Broadcasting replays them on the local cable system, for the benefit of those who weren’t in attendance. Whereas an event’s impact might be limited to the few hundred who showed up, and those who read the annotated newspaper account, the cablecasts give most islanders the chance to see what those who want their vote had to say.For these reasons, we challenge the League of Women Voters and other groups to consider slating their forums earlier in the campaign, to keep them relevant to when many folks are actually voting. It would help us all ferret out the differences as we try to make the best choices for our community.At this newspaper, we can envision timing our own endorsements and commentary to coincide with the appearance of mail-out ballots in local boxes. We began that shift this year, and will continue to do so.We used to wish that our campaign debates would be frank and spirited. Now we can add a new component: early. "

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