state voter guides

I spent the morning discussing policies of the National

Alliance for Civic Education. The meeting was at the American Political

Science Association (APSA) headquarters near Dupont Circle in Washington.

I love the building, which is an elegant, Victorian, stone row house.

I think the architecture could be described as Byzantine Revival—there’s

an arch over the door carved with intricate plant forms. Inside, it’s

rather ramshackle: little rooms, piles of reports, filing cabinets that

don’t quite fit, window air-conditioning units. It reminds me of the houses

at the periphery of major universities that get turned into anthropology

departments or study-abroad offices.

Two draft articles have come across my desk lately indicating that people—especially

young people without a lot of education—are more likely to vote if

they receive a state voter guide in the mail. Washington and Oregon

produce guides that give space to every candidate to describe his or her

positions. Everyone (or every registered voter?) in the state gets one

automatically. I’m becoming a zealot for voter guides because they lower

the cost of acquiring information. They are also a form of campaign-finance

reform, because they subsidize communication with state money—equally

for all candidates—and thereby lower the value of each dollar of

private money. Finally, you can make the candidates who choose to participate

swear that their statements are truthful. Rep. Wes Cooley (R-OR) was convicted

of lying on official documents when he claimed in the voter guide

that he had served in the special forces in Korea, when he had done no

such thing.