One of the large McClatchy newspapers in the state, the Charlotte Observer, also offers a sample online ballot, powered by Democracy Live. The ballot is packaged online with a searchable database of candidates and their personal statements, provided by the N.C. Center for Voter Education. The ballot is printable and well designed, and links take readers to more information, such as candidates’ Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds.
But specific questions about issues—posed by reporters, with answers from the candidates—aren’t integrated into the database or the sample ballot.
That information does exist. The Observer offers a full online page of links to all of its political coverage, including endorsements, detailed candidate profiles for high-profile races, and Q&As for some local races. The page is rich with information, but it’s intimidating, overwhelming, and difficult to navigate. One example: a Q&A with county commission candidates is linked from within an article that is itself linked in the voter page, so it’s invisible to readers at first glance.
In Raleigh, the Observer’s sister paper the News & Observer provides biographies and candidate statements with a similar tool that also pulls from the N.C. Center for Voter Education database. (Oddly, like Charlotte, its “select candidate” drop-down menu sorts by first name, a decision that drew a wry comment from at least one reader.)
Elsewhere in the state, other news organizations are offering information specific to their coverage areas: the independent Mountain Xpress in Asheville produced a voter guide with a tongue-in-cheek Halloween cover, focusing on the board of county commissioners and presented in PDF form only online. And the nonprofit Carolina Public Press has gone deep into campaign finance for U.S. House candidates in Districts 10 and 11, in the western part of the state. It has also embedded YouTube videos featuring debates between county candidates on its site.
But perhaps the best tool for voter guides, with the ability to add depth on issues and present the information in an integrated, useful, efficient way, is e-ThePeople, which shines at WRAL and the Star-News.
The best measure, after all, is how useful these guides are to readers. That’s why Jones of the Star-News finds the work gratifying. “Reader response to the online guide,” she wrote, “has been fantastic.”