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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Is Anybody Going to Vote In East Palo Alto?

For many years I have helped to organize and televise candidate forums and debates on community cable TV. This year, our agency received a grant to collaborate on a number of forums with several nearby League of Women Voter branches. In addition to televising the forums, the past few years we've been putting them online, indexing them into different segments to make them very user-friendly for the busy voters looking for some resources deeper than the tsunami of slick one-sided ads and mailers they get hit with.

Last week we had two of our forums. The first was for city council candidates of Menlo Park, CA, held at the Menlo Park City Council Chamber. Over 100 audience members attended the 90 minute forum in the upscale town. On Saturday we had a doubleheader forum in East Palo Alto, a neighboring town in demographic and economic transition. First were the elementary school district candidates followed by the city council candidates. At 10 AM when it was time to begin, there was one person in the audience and only one out of six of the candidates present. All but one of the candidates dribbled in, but not as many audience members showed up. By the time we got to the City Council Candidate forum there were about a dozen in the audience.

East Palo Alto is now majority Hispanic. This year we hired Spanish translators to provide real time translation into Spanish that could be heard via headphones. We sent a letter in Spanish to 133 households that had requested a ballot in Spanish, encouraging them to attend. Not a single headset was needed. I don't mean to single out one particular demographic as not a single one you could name was well represented unless folding chairs count as a group.

I'll report back what kind of traffic the online versions get before Election Day. There will be an English version and a Spanish version.

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