A fire can be lit with a match or a firecracker.
Most reasonable people, desiring a warm evening in their living room or den, will opt for a match to get the blaze going with only an occasional snap and crackle. Some, though, appear to prefer the firecracker and to heck with the warm evening activities.
Not to belabor the metaphor, we’re talking about the recent Pasco School District levy election; specifically, the rather startling efforts of a well-meaning volunteer group trying to get the levy passed.
In the end, as in every other school district in our area, the levy did pass.
We have commented on this before but one of the group’s leaders, David Jones, still resists suggestions from the Herald and others that they crossed a line.
Not legally, but in terms of what people expect to find in campaign materials. It is not the names, addresses and voting records of their neighbors. (Not how they voted, but if they voted.)
Before the February election, mailers were sent to Pasco residents providing important school levy information on one side. On the other side, some mailers included voting records of people living in the household, while others showed voting records of neighbors — named and unnamed.
Of course, newspapers, including the Herald, will from time to time publish the voting records of politicians (yes they voted or no they didn’t). By running for public office, they invite every voter to examine their record. But disseminating voting records of private citizens, even though it is public information, is unsettling to most people.
We agree wholeheartedly with these words from David Jones, Pasco Citizens for Better Schools levy campaign leader:
“Our obligation is to find out what works here. I don’t like upsetting people. I’m a nice guy and don’t like making people angry. (A small portion) of Pasco is deciding these issues, and our job is to increase that, in a targeted way.”
But the approach irritated a number of Pasco residents. One letter writer to the Herald complained that the mailer was a bullying tactic, and that it could be used to target undocumented people.
The committee says it was trying to research better ways to motivate voters in advance of the next Pasco school bond.
It sent out four different versions of the mailers: One version included only the recipient’s personal voting record, another compared the recipient’s voting record to nearby precincts. A third type compared the recipient’s voting record to a number of unnamed neighbors, and yet another compared the recipient’s voting records to nearby neighbors and mentioned them by name.
It was the fourth option that drew the most criticism from the public and the press.
Jones told the Herald the “whole purpose” of the mailers was to acquire “an extra tool in our tool belt for the next bond.” The committee saw the mailer as a way to encourage competition and increase voter turnout. While the group said it doesn’t plan to mention named neighbors in future elections, the mailer is “something we’d like to keep doing.”
We suggest they don’t.
Instead of feeling encouraged to vote, too many people said they thought the committee was trying to shame them.
It must be emphasized that although the Franklin County Auditor’s Office and the Pasco School District received complaints about the mailings, neither had anything to do with them. This was a pure citizens’ effort, done by volunteers. The Auditor’s Office is required by law to deliver voting records to citizens if asked. The school district is legally forbidden from engaging in campaigns to pass school levies or bond issues.
Hold them harmless.
The citizens committee can be forgiven this once for trying a new approach to increase voter turnout. But the ill will that resulted from the mailers will be difficult to overcome if they try this campaign strategy again.