Skip to main content

Another Voice: Participation by candidates essential to democratic process

This opinion was originally published by The Buffalo News.

More than 100 people came to the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library to ask questions of candidates running in the Democratic primary for the Buffalo Common Council on June 6.

Unfortunately, not all who want to represent those residents showed the same level of interest.

While there are five contested districts on the primary ballot, multiple candidates from only one district, Ellicott, showed up and answered questions from the voters. Masten, Lovejoy, North and University candidates were unable to participate in the formal forum because their opponents were no-shows.

When candidates refuse to participate in such opportunities, it is a profound loss for voters.

The League of Women Voters has a long history of conducting candidate forums. We want to provide a platform for voters to learn about who will be on their ballot. That’s why we are particularly concerned about candidates who refuse to show up at forums or participate in voter guides.

Candidates running for public office are applying for a job. Forums are like job interviews, and the voters are hiring. Who would hire an employee without interviewing them first?

When a candidate decides not to participate, it is a lost opportunity for all voters. Declining an opportunity to discuss the issues that matter most to voters is contrary to the public interest.

Research conducted on voter behavior and participation shows that not only does the public expect candidates to participate in voter education activities, it also found that voters are more likely to vote when they know who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues. When candidates choose not to participate, it’s the voters who are harmed.

The League of Women Voters does not endorse individual candidates or political parties. Our mission is to empower voters to make informed decisions by providing information and opportunities for meaningful and respectful engagement between elected officials, those running for office and their constituents.

The lifeblood of democracy is participation – not only by voters showing up on Election Day, but by candidates, incumbents and challengers alike, showing up for public forums.

Lori Robinson is president of the League of Women Voters, Buffalo Niagara