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Editorial: Letters during mail-in election

by Western News
| October 15, 2009 12:00 AM

The mail-in ballots for the municipal elections should be in the hands of registered voters by now and folks around the county are making their choices.

One of the goals of this newspaper’s editorial department is to present the candidates in a fair manner. As a result, we sent out questionnaires to those involved and are publishing them today and in this coming Wednesday’s edition. This method allows candidates to present themselves and respond to questions in their own words.

We do have a special letters to the editor policy when it comes to elections. Under normal circumstances, if voters were going to the polls on Nov. 3, we would allow the publication of issues on the minds of readers if the timing allowed a candidate to write a rebuttal. During a mail-in election, that particular system of publishing such letters could be seen as an unfair advantage one way or the other.

This issue presented itself in our office earlier this week when we received a letter to the editor that involves three people running in the current election. If published, it could have an immediate impact on votes because ballots are already in the hands of the people. Ballots could be mailed off before any of those candidates would have a chance for a rebuttal.

To illustrate in another manner, if the candidates were involved in a public debate where issues from the people are presented, they would be able to offer an immediate reaction. Voters would have heard both sides of the issue before going home and filling out their ballot. In this case of the letter, if published, it would be right there in the newspaper and voters may decide to fill out their ballots and send them in. Any rebuttal would be published later, and then could be too late.

To allow the publication of such letters during an ongoing election is seen by this newspaper as irresponsible. The type of election involved here is the deciding factor.

The Western News, however, is accepting personal endorsement letters to the editor. Regular letter guidelines apply and they will be published in the Oct. 23 edition. In cases where the same letter is signed by several people or submitted separately by different people, it will be published once. Endorsement letters offer support for a particular candidate. Letters attacking candidates will not be published because again, the mail-in election is under way and no opportunity for fair rebuttal exists.

No endorsement letters will be published after the Oct. 23 edition. The deadline to submit letters for publication in that issue is noon on Oct. 21.

— Brad Fuqua, Editor