Heath Haussamen/New Mexico In Depth
Campaign finance reform is front and center in the national conversation. Big money and political action committees are taking over and driving agendas. Political parties and philosophies are being driven to the back of the bus.
The average citizen is helping by closing the door. Actually, many voters are not even opening the door.
One of the unique aspects of our election code is the belief that candidates should visit a home to meet and converse with constituents. The election code was molded around the thought that voters should be able to look a candidate in the eye before casting their vote and that candidates should personally ask voters for their vote. It’s a quaint but solid notion based on human interaction that is about to be obliterated by money and closed doors.
As a candidate, door-knocking is a relatively inexpensive but very time-consuming proposition. On any given day, chances of talking to a live person are about 1 in 10, and the voter in question, 1 in 20.
Today, candidates are being greeted by signs on doors that say “No solicitors.” Many of those signs specifically add “No Politicians.” Yikes!
This art of door-knocking assures the voter of some direct contact with their representative, real or potential. It also allows the voter to “eyeball” the candidates. In mere seconds the voter knows some very basic information such as whether the candidate can walk and chew gum, actually listens, has a strong hand shake or a handshake akin to a dead fish, can string together a coherent sentence, bathes regularly, has an idea of how the office he or she is seeking works, and has some new ideas or no ideas at all.
No amount of 3-bullet-point printed or electronic information provides this type of accurate candidate assessment so quickly. Yet, more and more voters are closing the door on candidates.
Many voters believe that a “no soliciting” sign legally prohibits candidates from knocking. Not so. The election codes across the state are based on the need for direct candidate/voter interaction and are excluded from Do Not Call/Do Not Knock lists. Still, voters are not answering the door or, when they do, are angry that a candidate knocked.
So, if you think the political operatives and PACs who package candidates should pick your elected representatives and make campaigns for office incredibly expensive, stop reading and do not answer your door.
If you think direct contact between voters and candidates is important, read on.
One of the reasons voters are reluctant to answer the door when a candidate knocks is they are unable to distinguish between a candidate and a solicitor before the door is opened. They fear the solicitor, especially those working in teams, are actually criminals who might invade their home and do harm once the door is opened.
If the election system continues to believe that voter contact is important, the system could help resolve this dilemma by issuing standard candidate identification name bags with large type and a photo to registered candidates. Candidates can help by wearing a name badge with large print any time they go to a door. Volunteers should have similar identification.
The election code might also clarify the time periods candidates are authorized to door knock, such as 30 days to gather signatures, 45 days prior to the beginning of early voting in a primary or general election. This type of structure might reduce the voter apprehension about answering the door. Of course, more accurate voter data information will also help. At those few doors when a real person answers, there is nothing worse than to ask for John Q and his wife says, “I’m sorry, he has been dead for eight years.”
Another option in smaller elections – county, municipal, school board – is that the government entity itself could host two or three candidate forums so interested voters had a chance to interact with candidates and make a personal assessment.
In Albuquerque, I am grateful for the neighborhood associations and League of Women Voters that step in and provide such forums, but access to such forums is limited.
Last, many voters believe candidates do not understand how the voter lives. That personal visit creates an invaluable opportunity for future communication, win or lose.
As a candidate, door-knocking is hard work. As a voter, I really appreciate the candidates that allow me to make a personal evaluation because no flurry of bullet-pointed, often ugly, mail-box stuffing oversized mailers will tell me as much about a person as what I learn when I open the door.
Real representative government for real people! Open the door!
Arnold-Jones, a Republican, is a former New Mexico House member from Albuquerque. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.