Covering elections

This week's Journal begins three issues of election coverage to prepare you to vote in the Nov. 5 general election. We'll devote significant space to profiling candidates for the Minneapolis school board and Southwest-based legislative seats. We're also busy preparing an in-depth series on the four majority-party gubernatorial candidates' thoughts and positions on issues affecting Southwest Minneapolis - with unedited interview transcripts on our website, Those stories and transcripts will appear on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21.

I think when the election is over, you'll read more school board and legislative coverage here than anywhere else - and if I'm wrong, I'll be happy, because we're doing a lot, so that means others are too.

As the guy who gets paid to figure out what the proper mix of stories are in our paper, there's lots of evidence that we'll be doing too much: primary-election turnout was putrid, races weren't close, and little evidence emerged that Minneapolis is anything other than a one-party town.

So why bother to write all this stuff? Simply put, our election-coverage decision is based on civic optimism. Our goal is to give you better tools to make your decision. We honestly don't know how many of you will pick up those tools, but we're optimists, so we'll gamble that better tools build a better democracy.

There are a few solid principles that have guided the Journal's coverage over the years, and will continue to do so. First, we don't make endorsements. Why? It's your vote, and our job is to help you decide, not to lead you by the nose to a conclusion. While no reporter or publication is perfectly objective or fair, we will strive to fairly represent candidates' positions while not ignoring inconsistencies or critics.

Second, we'll largely avoid "horse race" coverage - that is, who's winning or losing. This is often crystal-ball journalism - or, in a word, guessing -- but why do that when the facts could fill countless papers? Even with the space we'll devote, it's agonizing to distill a candidacy into the single story; with this space pressures, scoreboard-watching is especially frivolous.

Caveat to the above pontificating: we do have to make some guesses about which races to cover. This year, there are 10 legislative races, and our staff and space just isn't big enough to do extensive stories on all of them. So we'll devote much less space to races that aren't competitive (for example, District 60B, where DFLer Frank Hornstein is running unopposed), unusual or in districts with few Southwest residents.

We'll take a different tack with school board candidates: all eight will be individually profiled. We'll spread our coverage over the next three issues. The order is basically random, and all eight stories will be on the website as of Oct. 21, when the final round runs.

We'll probably give serious treatment to some blow-out races, but I don't care. You decide victory margins on Nov. 5, and we'll err on the side of taking choices seriously.

Third, while we'll do our best to give you deeper information, we aren't the be-all and end-all, so we'll give you candidate contact information as well as links to third-party sources.

There are many reasons people don't vote, or don't care about elections - a feeling that their choices don't matter or aren't worth the time; that elections and government policies are foregone conclusions or determined by "powerful forces" that exert control long after the ballot box closes.

The cynics are often right -- but nothing changes by sitting on the sidelines. (Despite bumper stickers reading, "don't vote, you'll only encourage them," I've never seen power-mongers discouraged by low turnout.) I believe participation leads to good things - at least more than from a lack of participation. I'm an optimist, so we'll put the information out there and hope you benefit.