EDITORIAL: Candidates' nights need some work

Tuesday’s election is behind us, which means there is no better time to start planning for informing voters about future elections. What voters need to know is more about each candidate, and how he or she reacts under pressure. In short, voters should have access to more confrontational candidates’ nights next time around.

The League of Women Voters deserves high praise for sponsoring the events. But they should be more dramatic, more of a test between candidates. At present, all candidates for an office stand and make a statement, then the audience can ask questions of one or all. This format is hit-or-miss at best, or entirely miss at worst. Not all candidates answer the questions, or questions are easily deflected. Most distressing is that the candidates never address each other for more than a few seconds.

What is needed is a different format in which candidates for the same office can discuss issues between themselves and ask questions of one another. Give the stage to the major party candidates for 15 to 20 minutes and let the audience listen. What they say and how they interact will tell the audience far more than a few snippets of comments made at random, as is now the case. If needed, a moderator can keep the discussion on topic.

With more of a debate format, voters can make real judgements about the intelligence and depth of knowledge possessed by each candidate. It is commonly thought that the public is turned off by politics, but in fact they’re thirsty for real information. Certainly they’re sick of sound bites, mailed hit pieces, trite answers to complex questions and and empty slogans. But put on some real debates and interest in politics will be renewed.

The historical model is the Lincoln/Douglas debates in Illinois in 1858. These seven debates lasted hours, were held in seven different cities and were extremely popular. The debate in the town of Freeport, population 5,000, attracted an audience of 15,000, for example.

People in 1858 were no different than those today although the issues are vastly different. We all want to see candidates for office put to the test, and nothing does it like a real debate. Here’s hoping we have a few in 2003 and even more in 2004.

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