Friday, August 31, 2018

Campaign Websites – HoCo Board of Education (Part 2)

Side note:  whenever I write, “Part Two,” I hear it in Mr. Plinkett’s voice.  I assume all of my readers are Red Letter Media fans and will grasp the reference immediately.

Back to the website review…

Vicky Cutroneo

The home page is visually interesting…with some prominent endorsements alongside a large photograph of the candidate.  The text (including a “Donate” button!) blends in with the background somewhat and the font could be a bit larger to enhance readability, but I am focusing on small stuff. You aren’t here for my aesthetic ruminations.

The Priorities page centers on three key issues: fiscal management, equity/inclusion/diversity, and school climate & engagement.  Her issue mix is not dissimilar from those of other BoE candidates.   In terms of presenting a detailed and forward-looking agenda, she excels in the fiscal management section.  The equity section is more focused on problem identification and raising questions as opposed to discussing concrete solutions.  The school climate and engagement section is more akin to the fiscal management discussion insofar as it is more solutions-centric, although without quite as much granularity compared to the ideas found in the fiscal section.

Her “In the News” section features endorsements.  This might be a good place for her campaign to put candidate questionnaires…or thought pieces penned by the candidate herself.  Alas, it is not presently utilized in that manner.

She does provide “news you can use” on the home page regarding upcoming forums.  That is handy.

As I have stated before, it is unlikely she will finish outside of the top four in the General Election, although strange developments happen.  Her campaign raised $3,408 in the last period and has $532 Cash-On-Hand at present.  Is her website effective as a repository of information/voter engagement vehicle?  It’s OK…perhaps a B or B-.

Dr. Wu is…an interesting candidate.  I am not condemning with faint praise here.  I simply find his candidacy, along with his website, offering up an odd mix of high points and head-scratchers. Back to first principles…let’s explore the effectiveness of his campaign website as a communications platform.

It is well-organized, with useful information for voters (Maps! Questionnaire responses!).  He makes decent use of audio-visuals (such as the video showing his campaign kick-off).  His “Top Posts” section offers voters a quick means of locating information on hot topics such as overcrowding and zoning.  These are all positives.

But then there are the sloppy typos (“campgain” trail, nonpartisan “racet” are two that leapt out). He is seeking a seat on the Board of Education and so proper attention to detail regarding spelling and grammar is, well, important.  His “Published Articles” include many that are more CA-driven, which may be of less interest to those who are specifically seeking information on education issues.

His Campaign Platform doesn’t spell out as many concrete solutions as it could/should…it reads more like a Campaign Philosophy and it can approach platitudinous levels in certain spots.

In short, at present, the concept is better than the execution.  With some additional meat and some proof-reading, the website would be a more compelling communications tool.  Given his solid showing in the primary and his fundraising numbers ($700 in the last reporting period; $2,587 CoH), Wu’s candidacy should be taken seriously.  I think he will end up being a contender for the 4th spot.

Ok, I know I wasn’t going to talk aesthetics but wow, his campaign is using the entire color palette from a mid-‘90s Geocities website.  It’s a little busy.  My eyes are tired.

Moving past the visual onslaught, the Platform (focusing on four themes and three priorities) is spelled out in some detail.  He seems to be putting more of an emphasis on mental health compared to some (but not all) of the other candidates.  While I found the Platform to be a little thin in terms of offering up well-fleshed out solutions, the inclusion of his questionnaire responses helped in terms of conveying a larger vision.  I would have liked to have seen more of a focus on operational/programmatic ideas/prescriptions…particularly as it relates to challenges such as promoting equity and alleviating overcrowding.  His answers to those questions feel thoughtful, yet not as complete as they could be.

I think the mix of communications (with “Meet Danny” and “Get Involved” and “Donate” being candidate-centered…and only the “Platform” section being voter-centered) is a bit too inward-looking.  I am not saying he needs to wonk out like Miller, but the weight should be on how to resolve education challenges.  At present, it’s a little heavy on bio and endorsement/campaign news.

He raised $530 in the last reporting period and is showing $1,654 CoH.  He finished 8th in the primary election.  I have a hard time seeing him finishing higher than 7th in the General.

As my readers may recall, Dr. Pandey received my 4th vote in the primary.  For Reasons. 
It looks like her campaign did a website re-design, and I can’t say it was a smashing success.  The “Goals” are very topline.  I don’t think her campaign is highlighting her subject matter expertise as effectively as it could be.  There is a “Meet Anita” tab at the bottom of the website that takes you to her biography, some publications, and awards but I seem to recall there being a more impressive (albeit long) list of credentials and accomplishments on a previous iteration of her campaign site.

I am not sure I would have the endorsements scrolling on the bottom of the page as they do…while it provides a sense of motion, they move perhaps a bit too quickly (which diminishes readability and hence the value derived from showcasing endorsements).  

She is a scholar but, being candid, this site looks cheesy.  It doesn’t radiate gravitas. It appears to be something that was piecemealed together.  There are some interesting ideas in her brief Goals section, but the presentation doesn’t draw the reader in.  Her solutions are not being highlighted properly.  And she lacks a central animating principle that defines her education vision (note: a tagline is not a core narrative).

Her inclusion of a video and podcast is good, but unfortunately, there isn’t much else I can say about this website as a voter engagement vehicle.  In terms of fundraising, she raised almost $97 in the last reporting period and has a CoH sum of $78.65.  I expect Pandey and Mackey will battle it out for 7th place.

In solidarity.

Campaign Websites – HoCo Board of Education (Part 1)

I like to believe that campaign websites should tell us something about the candidate; how they think, how they communicate, and their vision for the office she or he is seeking.  Granted, down-ballot and low-dollar races may not have the resources to publish gold standard websites/communications platforms/engagement vehicles…but they should (at the very least) impart useful information to voters about where candidates stand on timely and important issues.

Here are my thoughts on the websites of the eight candidates running for the Howard County Board of Education.  There are in no particular order.   Well that is not entirely accurate, as I am supporting Taj, Mallo, and Miller. But that is of less relevance for this particular topic.

[Note: I am going to break this up into two posts, so here are four of the eight.  The others will follow soon…].

Well-organized and accessible with both video and text-driven content.  She breaks out her stances on eight pressing issues, such as school safety and finding a site for high school #14 in Elkridge.  She presents innovative ideas on challenges such as bullying.  In her “Why I’m Running” section, she outlines her support for helping educators with loan repayment assistance as well as enhancing professional development. Moreover, she discusses ways to promote community engagement as well as equity.  In short, she talks about the Big Issues in an engaging manner. 

Overall, she published a very professional, solutions-centric website that offers voters a great deal of useful information.  The clarity level is solid…making it easy to locate and digest her messaging.  Combined with her strong fundraising numbers ($5,350 raised in the last reporting period; $6,662 Cash-on-Hand), it is clear that Taj is running a very serious campaign.

Jen Mallo

Mallo’s site is well-structured, logical, and makes it easy for voters to locate information.  I like that she included both her perspectives on five key issues (such as fiscal responsibility and empowering teachers, to name two) as well as her responses to candidate surveys.  This provides voters with the ability to explore her detailed thoughts on education policies and practices. Her on-site blog provides a useful platform to discuss recent developments and engage with readers.  Her “What Are Educators Saying about Jen?” section, located under the Pictures & Video& More tab allows site visitors to check out several testimonials from area educators.  Hearing from such validators/champions is a nice (and electorally smart) touch.

Her site demonstrates a commitment to transparency and the exchange of ideas.  Her campaign also had a good fundraising period ($3,100 raised; $4,457 CoH).  In my book, Mallo and Taj have been running the strongest campaigns for BoE this cycle.    

Easy-to-navigate links to his thoughts on 14 core issues can be found right on his home page.  Once you click through, you will find text…blocks and blocks of text.  Not prolix but definitely dense and not as readable as it could be.  He isn’t hurting for thoughtful and well-reasoned ideas on salient topics such as standardized testing and teacher evaluation, but the presentation could be improved.  His “News” section is useful, especially for those who would like to peruse testimonies he has delivered.  

Visually, it is not the most impressive site I have ever seen.  It is functional.  He is running a decent campaign and the HCEA endorsement definitely helped. In the last fundraising period, he raised $350 and has $990 CoH.  Could his communications efforts be stronger? Yes.

Bob Glascock

I have to be candid, I was a little disappointed going through his campaign website.  I think it is thin on vision and too heavy on “inward” looking information (his resume).  There is a paucity of education issues and solutions on the campaign site, which is a lost communications opportunity.  It looks like it was cobbled together over the space of 90 minutes.  The site shows that he had a place on the Apple Ballot for the primary election…great for him, but for all of his years in education, he only posted two testimonials.  Very odd editorial and design choices. 

Overall, his campaign is underutilizing the site as a platform/voter engagement vehicle.  He also didn’t raise a dime in the last reporting period (although he has $1,516 CoH).  His campaign is heavily (perhaps too) reliant on HCEA backing. I know he finished second in the primary…and some folks think he might have a shot at first place in the General…but I am starting to believe he might be in a tough fight for the 4th spot.

Let’s go with the old tagline…stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Systemic Disenfranchisement

What is happening now, in the United States in 2018, is a sustained and deliberate attempt to subvert democracy through the imposition of laws and practices designed to suppress the vote among racial minorities and low-income populations.  Looking for voter fraud?  How about actions taken by Republican Secretaries of State to defraud citizens of their right to vote.

We have, of course, seen this throughout our history.  From denying certain groups the right to vote to creating obstacles to make it more difficult for people to exercise their franchise, American history is full of shameful anti-democratic examples of power elites attempting to exclude others from participating in our political system (which carries with it significant economic consequences as well).

The array of disenfranchising measures being taken by Republican officeholders at the national and state levels (and/or proposed by their allies at various “think tanks” and other organizations) is appalling.  Let’s consider just a handful of cases:

1.     In Ohio, the Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has removed over 2 million voters off the rolls since 2011. The reason?  These voters were “inactive” (if they didn’t respond to “purge notices” which were “sent to residents who moved or didn’t cast a ballot for two years”). An article in Mother Jones magazine noted that “voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods have been purged at about twice the rate of people in Republican-leaning ones.”  What happened to this sinister Sec. of State?  Was he punished for abusing the powers of his office?  Nope. He is now Mike DeWine’s running-mate…on the ballot in Ohio this November for Lieutenant Governor. 
2.     The recent proposal in Georgia to shut down 7 of 9 polling places in a majority Black county, Randolph County.  Coincidence that the Democratic nominee for Governor is a Black woman, Stacey Abrams? Mike Malone, the consultant who recommended shutting down these polling sites, was a donor to the Republican gubernatorial nominee’s campaign.
3.     The implementation of an onerous state voter ID law in Wisconsin, vigorously administered, saw turnout rates in Black precincts in Milwaukee plummet in the 2016 General Election.  The margins were sufficient to tip the state to Trump in that year’s presidential election.  Again, disproportionate impact was in full effect, with “Black voters 50% likelier than whites to lack these IDs because they were less likely to drive or to be able to afford the documents required to get a current ID, and more likely to have moved from out of state” (source: Mother Jones).
4.     The breaking news that the US is “denying passports to Hispanic-Americans” who reside in Texas…and has even entered into deportation proceedings in some cases is yet another means of denying Americans their Constitutional rights.  Interesting that this is occurring in an election cycle where “Lyin’ Ted” appears to be running neck-and-neck against a charismatic Democratic Senate nominee, Beto O’Rourke. 
5.     Several states have cut back on early voting periods.  This effectively promotes the disenfranchisement of those who have less flexibility in terms of when and how they can vote (job demands, child care needs, transportation options, etc…). In 2012, Florida cut their early voting period from 14 to 8 days.  In 2013, North Carolina reduced their early voting period from 17 to 10 days.  Wisconsin (again) got rid of night and weekend early voting in 2014 while Ohio (again) cut out six days, plus evenings, plus Sunday plus the day before Election Day from their early voting period in 2014 (source: ACLU).  How does race factor into this you ask?  In 2008 and 2012, “70% of Black voters in North Carolina voted early.”  In 2012, Black voters in Ohio were twice as likely as white voters to vote early. 
6.     The Shelby County vs. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013 (with a conservative-dominated Court, again presidential elections/choices matter) made it easier for jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to change their election procedures without having to show that the changes “would not make minority voters worse off” or that the change was “not enacted for that purpose” (source: The Guardian).
7.     A “purge” database known as Crosscheck that “has been found to be more likely to flag African American, Asian American, and Latino voters for removal than Caucasian voters” (source: The Guardian).  Who is a big fan of Crosscheck? Why Kris Kobach, the anti-immigrant Secretary of State of Kansas (where he also took steps to disenfranchise voters) and now Trump’s Vice Chairman of the so-called “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.”  Oh yes, Kobach is also the Kansas GOP gubernatorial nominee this year.

Sadly, these are just a few case studies.  Fascism can take many forms, race and class based voter disenfranchisement is one of manifestation of it.

When you deny the right of the people to participate in our electoral process, one must ask, who is the real “enemy of the people”?   

In solidarity.