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Contest results and wireless feedback for the next election

November 22, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Perhaps the day after this year's election was too soon to ask readers how they would improve the next one, even with a $25 gasoline card as a prize for the best suggestion.

There were only four responses to my Nov. 8 request, but they were thoughtful and one contained information about something I had assumed might be too technical for use in a local election.

The first response came from Jacqueline Fischer, a member of the Washington County Board of Education, whose suggestion involves future School Board primaries:

Fischer wrote that in order to give voters a wider choice of candidates, that instead of limiting voters' general election choices to three (or four in presidential election years), that the size of the field be doubled.

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"Voting for six candidates (or eight in the off year) would produce a slate of candidates more reflective of the voters' desires," she wrote. The only downside I see is that candidates running for an office that pays only $5,600 a year would have a longer campaign. The face is that only the truly dedicated would file.

Jonathan R. Burrs suggested that more people might vote if the technology now in use was improved so that, for example, systems couldn't be "hacked."

Burrs also wrote that the intensely partisan politics of the last few years "and for me personally, it leaves a sense of helplessness and hopelessness when it comes to having a desire to vote for any particular candidate. Politics is corrupt and it is unfair and until Americans change this process things will not be able to get better."

Much the same thought came from Bill Sonnik, who said he would like to see an outright ban on negative advertising.

"Either this would be legislated which I don't personally favor, or all broadcasters would voluntarily agree to not accept any negative advertising," he said.

"Pollsters say that negative advertising works but it has the exact opposite effect on me. Those who go negative will never get my vote," Sonnik said.

What if the voters agreed among themselves to do as Sonnik does? That might stop the mindless sort of ad that takes 20-year-old quotes and presents them, complete with bad photos of the targeted candidates, as evidence that the foe is evil incarnate.

My son Michael also wrote and favors the idea of reviving Kids Voting, which allows children to accompany parents on Election Day and vote in their own straw poll. A habit developed early might continue for life.

My musings about a candidate forum with instant feedback is apparently not so exotic an idea.

My son described a teachers' assembly during which Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan asked teachers to respond to her questions via "clickers."

Wil Kaufman of the school system's public information office said the system is called GIFT, an acronym for Group Interactive Feedback Technology.

I couldn't find their Web site. The technology is not new, so the company might have changed its name or been purchased by another firm. There are other similar products, however, including one called "Audience Alive."

Their site says that: "Our offering includes a range of voting solutions, all of which can be used to create a real-time, two-way interactive communication channel between you and your audience before, during and after your event."

In January 2005, the New Jersey Star Ledger's Kelly Heyboyer wrote about the use of such devices in the classroom to determine instantly how many students understand the subject being discussed.

How much do they cost? According to the story, the prices of the systems vary, depending on the number purchased, etc., but have been well-received in colleges with large lecture classes.

The good news is that as more schools use this technology, the price will drop.

And then perhaps by the next election, we can watch a forum in which audience members give the candidates instant feedback on their answers.

For would-be elected officials, it could be scary, but it could force the candidates to be better prepared, as opposed to depending on a sunny smile and a soothing voice to carry them into office.

And who won the contest? Bill Sonnik. Thanks to all for their thoughts.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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