Voters in American Fork who like to be informed will want to be at the American Fork Senior Center Monday evening, October 16, for a City Council Debate sponsored by the American Fork Chamber of Commerce.
As usual, the event has two parts: an informal meet-and-greet from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m., and a debate from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
What to Expect
In case you’ve never attended one of these events, I’ll give you an idea of what to expect. I haven’t consulted with the Chamber of Commerce about this specific event, but they tend to be very much alike.
During the meet-and-greet, most or all of the candidates will be at tables, chatting with voters and answering questions. Most or all will have fliers or other handouts, and some will have candy or other treats. They may also have a few yards signs for voters who want them. If you want one and they don’t have one for you, the typical candidate will be happy to take your name and address and have one delivered.
By the time the debate portion is well under way, attendance could be as high as 60 to 100, though fewer is more common. The meet-and-greet isn’t likely to be so crowded.
In case you don’t know the issues well enough to ask specific questions about them, here are a few good questions you can ask any candidate anytime:
- Why are you running? What do you want to accomplish if you’re elected?
- What are the important issues in this election?
- How are you different from the other candidates?
- Have you served on any boards, commissions, or committees for the City?
During the debate portion, the moderator and candidates will be up front with microphones. The rest of us will be in rows of folding chairs.
Typically each candidate gets a brief opening statement, but sometimes we jump straight into questions and answers, which occupy the bulk of the scheduled 90 minutes. Which candidate speaks first will change from question to question. There may be a short break in the middle. Brief closing statements usual end the event.
A moderator will ask all the questions. Don’t expect to be called on to ask your own question.
Some moderators include their own questions; others ask only questions from the voters. There’s always an opportunity before the debate starts, and often it extends into the debate, for voters to submit written questions. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to submit questions online before the event, but I haven’t heard of that in this case.
I don’t know who is moderating this event. More often than not, over the years, it’s Utah State Auditor John Dougall, who represented American Fork in the state legislature for ten years.
I’ve moderated enough city council and school board debates to know the ropes. Among other things, the moderator
- chooses and orders the questions;
- combines multiple questions on the same topic into one or two good, clear questions for the candidates;
- clarifies unclear questions and condenses long ones; and
- filters out irrelevant, bad, or inappropriate questions, including questions intended for a single candidate (as an attack or an opportunity to strut).
As a voter, I almost always submit at least two questions. I try to keep them appropriate and relevant, the sorts of questions a moderator would want to ask, useful questions whose answers would help the voters. It’s rare that more than half of my questions are asked, and that’s okay. The moderator almost never runs out of good questions. The time is simply too short for that, even if 90 minutes (in this case) seems long.
Candidates typically have a minute or two to respond to each question, and sometimes they get 30 or 60 seconds for rebuttal. It depends on the moderator and the event. A few years ago I moderated a 25-minute debate for student voters at American Fork High School at lunchtime. With a couple of simple questions I limited answers to a few words or several seconds. (Some of those candidates still remind me of that.) For others we took 30 or 60 seconds each.
Typically, the moderator will ask the audience to save all applause for the end of the event. Things go more smoothly that way, and more questions can be asked and answered.
There may be another chance to talk informally with candidates after the debate — or to help take down chairs and tables and set up the room for the seniors again.
In case you’re wondering, in my experience these events tend to be quite civil, even where there are stark disagreements. I’ve never seen one get rowdy, like some of the things we see on TV.
Here at AFelection.info, we typically post audio of these events, and that’s the plan this time too. We hope it helps voters who cannot attend for any reason, as well as those who attend but want to review.
So why bother to attend in person?
First of all, technology is fallible. What if the recorder malfunctions or the audio is unusable for some reason?
Second, there’s no substitute for meeting candidates face-to-face, asking them your own questions, and hearing their manner and tone and watching their body language as they answer or evade your questions.
Third, face time with candidates can reinforce an important reality: candidates are people too. That may affect how you judge them, especially later, when some of them take office. It might encourage you to appreciate them for sticking their necks out and running for office at all. It could even make you think you might someday be a candidate too.
I enjoy one-on-one chats with candidates, when opportunities arise. They are useful and informative. But, fourth, seeing them interact with other candidates, agreeing and disagreeing and explaining, gives me a better sense of their political temperaments. That helps me decide who is more likely to be effective in office.
I suggest you do four things:
Attend Monday evening if you can. If you can’t, listen to the audio here. It should be posted within several days. Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce posts video on social media too.
Listen to both sides of issues, remembering that sometimes strong speakers have weaker arguments and vice versa.
If there’s a candidate you like, ask for a yard sign and put it up. Taking a stand like that among one’s neighbors can be a nervous thing, but we may as well take stands in small things as practice for taking a stand in large things.
If you change your mind about the candidate, you can always take the sign down. Depending on the moral character of each opponent and his or her supporters, someone may take it down for you without asking. It’s dirty but it does happen here.
Finally, take time to talk and listen to other voters, before and after the evening’s formalities. You may learn things. You may find allies or even make a friend.
I’ll see you there.