City council candidates Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson face-off at The Great Debate held on Oct. 23, 2021 at the Rainier Arts Center. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Weekend Long Reads: Voter Guides Galore

by Kevin Schofield

If you’re like the majority of Seattle voters, you’ll be filling out your ballot this weekend. And even if you haven’t yet tuned out the seemingly endless flood of candidate forums and political ads and you know who you want to vote for in the high-profile races, there are still several “down-ballot” positions, voter initiatives, and advisory votes that you likely still need to sort out.

There is certainly no lack of advocacy groups who are happy to tell you who to vote for and media outlets with their own slate of endorsements. If you know and trust the source, that’s one way to fill out your ballot. But in case you want to do your own homework on candidates and issues, here are four voters’ guides that present a wealth of relevant information but allow you to make up your own mind.

The gold-standard for impartial information is the King County Voters’ Pamphlet, which those of us with a mailing address will have received in the mail. It lists all the candidates along with their own statements about why you should vote for them. For other items on the ballot it provides statements “for” and “against” written by proponents and opponents. The King County Elections site allows you to create a customized online Voters’ Pamphlet with just the races and issues on your ballot. The strength of the voters’ pamphlet is that it hopefully provides the most compelling arguments on either side; its weakness is that while it is technically an impartial publication in that it doesn’t take a side, it provides no objective analysis of candidates or issues. 

If you’d prefer to see and hear from the candidates rather than just read their statements, the Seattle Channel — a publication of the City of Seattle that is forbidden by law from endorsing candidates — has a “Video Voter’s Guide” that includes two-minute statements submitted by the candidates themselves. The Seattle Channel also recorded its own candidate Q&A sessions, and those are also available on the site.

Crosscut, a local nonprofit news outlet that is a subsidiary of KCTS9, has an excellent election guide that mixes candidate biographies, original reporting, and written candidate Q&A sessions featuring reader-submitted questions. Crosscut does not endorse candidates.

Finally, the Seattle Times flips the script on its voters’ guide: It presents a quiz on hot issues and other reasons you might choose one Seattle Mayoral candidate over another (such as who is funding their campaign), then presents you with information about which candidate is most aligned with your preferences. It’s not terribly deep analysis, but if you are likely to make up your mind based upon one or two hot-button issues, this will probably tell you what you need to know.  A caveat: the Seattle Times Editorial Board has endorsed candidates in many races — it claims to be entirely independent of the news reporting side of its house, however.

These guides are most helpful in helping you to discern the ideological leanings of each of the candidates, and if that is central to how you vote, you’re in luck. They are less useful for understanding whether a candidate has the qualifications to hold the office or if they have a track record of competence and results. Moreover, they don’t tell us what we need to know perhaps most of all: how the candidates will respond when faced with a situation that no one anticipated. In November 2019 we had no idea that the people we were electing would be plunged three months later into managing the City’s response to a global pandemic and a devastating economic downturn, and then another three months after that they would face a cathartic moment for race relations and police accountability. 

If I could wave a magic wand and conjure up the perfect 2021 Voters’ Guide, it would probably be one that assessed each candidate on the “2020 Test” — how they would fare if they held the office they seek during those fateful twelve months. But in the absence of that, these four guides will be useful resources as you fill out your ballot this weekend.

Ballots must be deposited in a King County Elections dropbox or postmarked by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2. Remember to vote, and don’t forget to sign the envelope!

King County Elections Voters’ Pamphlet

Seattle Channel Video Voters’ Guide

Crosscut Election Guide

Seattle Times General Election Voters’ Guide

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and publishes Seattle Paper Trail. Previously he worked for Microsoft, published Seattle City Council Insight, co-hosted the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast, and raised two daughters as a single dad. He serves on the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.

📸 Featured Image: City council candidates Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson face-off at The Great Debate held on Oct. 23, 2021 at the Rainier Arts Center. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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