Kitsap gets video voters' guide

Even as budget cuts this year forced Kitsap County to discontinue producing the printed version of its voters’ pamphlet, a plan to replace the document with an electronic alternative was already being developed, according to Elections Supervisor Dolores Gilmore.

“We were already planning to use grant money to fund a video voters’ guide,” she said. “The budget cuts just helped it along.”

The new system, which will be accessed though the county’s Web site, will enable voters to view a sample ballot for all the races in which they are to vote.

Gilmore said discontinuing the printed guides will save approximately $44,000 a year -- a drop in the county’s budgetary bucket, but enough to fund one employee’s annual salary.

Ballot names will be hot-linked, and in addition to the customary written candidate statement, voters will be able to view a standardized video in which candidates will be able to voice their qualifications.

To pay for the program, the county received a $13,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, and elections officials contracted with Democracy Live of Bellevue to administer the process.

The company, which is running similar programs in 10 Washington counties, is partnering with Olympic College to produce the video content.

The two-minute videos will be filmed in the OC studios, using consistent lighting and background.

Candidates can either use the OC facilities or decline to produce a video, but cannot provide their own footage. This is in order to ensure all presentations are of equal production quality.

With regard to content, candidates will be responding to predetermined questions, but their answers can follow any form as long as they do not exceed the two-minute time limit.

It was originally thought that candidates should be required to talk only about their own qualifications and prohibited from referring to their opponents, since the opponent wouldn't be present to offer a rebuttal.

But objections were raised by the committee overseeing the voter's guide that banning reference to opponents would give a competitive advantage to incumbent office-holders.

It was decided to put the question to Kitsap Prosecutor Russ Hauge, who will determine how stringent the answer guidelines can be.

Candidates will be charged $25 for each video to cover production expenses. They will have the freedom to just read their statement or say something more spontaneous.

“It will be up to the candidate,” said Democracy Live's Executive Director Bryan Finney. “They could just read their statement or say something that is more off the cuff about why they are running and what they intend to do.”

Finney said a video gives a more accurate impression of the candidate than a still picture or a written statement.

The impetus for the video voter guide has its roots in the disability rights movement. Voters can switch on subtitles, and the videos can increase the flow of information to those with hearing, sight or reading disabilities.

The new system will be in place for the Aug. 18 primary, even though no primaries will be held for races with less than three candidates.

City Council/Mayor races will occur in Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Poulsbo, and council races in Port Orchard.

Port of Bremerton Commissioner Cheryl Kincer's seat is also open.

Finney said he hopes it won’t be too long before ”every candidate on all levels, from Senator to city council, will have videos online.”

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