The core mission of public libraries is to provide information and published material. But should they also distribute election campaign literature? The AdHoc Group on Voter Decision-Making Information (AGVDI), a set of frustrated voters in central Ohio, thinks the answer is "yes."
One of Washington's perennially hot topics is campaign finance reform; its backers claim that such an overhaul would take the big money out of electioneering. If candidates spent less time chasing campaign contributions, the theory goes, they would spend more time listening to voters.
While almost everyone seems to agree that political campaigns need reforming, there is no agreement on how to do it. While one school of thought focuses on restricting and monitoring private campaign donations, another school contends that the fault lies not in how much money is being spent, but in how little useful decisionmaking information is being spread by traditional campaigns.
The latter school casts its vote for making adequate decision-making information more readily available through tax-supported "public forums" - such as public libraries. Information-power advocates measure progress by how many more better-informed voters reach a personal "I-know-enough" plateau. As this constituency grew, it would not pay for politicians to employ such low-impact tactics as paid political announcements and partisan broadsides.
With this campaign-reform goal in mind, some six to eight volunteers are sending AGVDI's fourth annual "voter wish list" to 34 public libraries in central Ohio. Mailed prior to the November elections, the score card lists 10 ways we believe libraries can - and should - help voters become better informed. AGVDI assigns a point count to each suggestion, based on a subjective measure of its importance. As in previous years, AGVDI will canvass each library after the November election, using the Score Card as the survey instrument. We will publicize the results, and an AGVDI member will personally present libraries receiving 50 points or more with a certificate of appreciation. In this year's round, we will also seek a more cost-effective way of distributing our standard-format instruction page to candidates.
Info power points
The activities AGVDI rates on its score card may be grouped into the following broad categories:
* Visibility - creating a well-marked voter information area, either inside the library or through electronic links, and publicizing its availability to the community.
* Ready reference - offering materials that describe the duties of elected officials, the wording of ballot measures, and contact information for candidates and ballot-issue committee members.
* Authority control - displaying "take-home" candidate statements and ballot arguments that come directly "from the horse's mouth" - an activity we view as crucial. The library remains nonpartisan by treating everyone equally - providing only the space, or forum, and AGVDI's standard candidate-statement format. …