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Citizens Agenda: The results are in!

Voters focus on homeless, abortion rights, elections, guns, health care

Patti Braimes puts in her ballot in a drop box as she smiles while holding onto her bicycle and wearing a multicolored helmet.
Patti Braimes votes in the primary election, putting her ballot in the drop box near the Whatcom County Courthouse at 7:26 p.m. on Aug. 2. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ron Judd Executive Editor

We asked, you responded.

The Cascadia Daily News inaugural Citizens Agenda process took a big step this week, when readers, presented with 60 choices, picked their five most-critical questions to be presented to candidates. Those five questions will inform our coverage in the coming weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 general election.

The questions were submitted by readers in response to our prompt: “What do you want candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?”

Some of the “races” were close, but votes have now been tabulated. (We’re hoping to avoid runoffs and recounts!) Here are readers’ choices for candidate questions, in order of preference:

  1. What are your plans for addressing the homeless problem?
  2. What is your position on abortion — is it a legal right all women should have? If so, what will you do to ensure they do?
  3. Was the U.S. election of 2020 legitimate?
  4. What do you consider to be common-sense gun regulation?
  5. Do you support single-payer health care for all Washington and U.S. residents? If so, how soon? If not, then what?

So what happens next? At CDN, the questions will inform and guide stories we produce in the newsroom leading up to the election. The questions will also be submitted, by written form, to candidates in key local elections. Answers will be published in a CDN Voter Guide Oct. 19.

During endorsement interviews in the coming month, candidates will be encouraged to extrapolate on their answers to the questions made previously on a written form. CDN’s opinion staff will gauge their answers to these and other questions in determining which candidates to endorse for the Nov. 8 general election. Those endorsements also will appear in our Oct. 19 Voter Guide.

To be clear: The top five are not the only questions we’ll put to candidates, who we expect to be upfront and candid about a broad range of issues, particularly those submitted as questions by readers that earned substantial numbers of votes in their own right.

Those other subjects include climate change solutions, gay and trans rights, the state’s regressive tax structure, campaign finance reform, voting reform, renters’ rights, mental health, incarceration issues, workplace rights and many other issues of local import.

Citizens Agenda is a campaign-coverage strategy employed by many North American news organizations over the past two decades. The goal is to shift from horse race-style coverage, where campaign issues are largely ceded to candidates and their strategists, to subjects of immediate interest to local constituents. CDN chose it as a framework for its first-ever general election coverage because it is in keeping with the newspaper’s focus on consumer-oriented reporting and commentary.

One lesson we’ve already learned on our first try: Framing and grouping of questions is critical. Several questions submitted by readers in slightly different forms, had they been rewritten into a single question, likely would have ranked higher in our final voting, but the vote was in essence “split” by related questions.

The standout example is gun-control legislation: A general question about the subject ranked in our top five. But if the votes for that question are combined with a similar question discussing more specific gun-control measures, guns would have qualified as the most-voted-for overall subject in our poll, by a wide measure. But it still made the top-five list, so our staff will ask the question early and often. We’ll try to correct that possibility next time around.

To watch how your submitted questions play out in coverage, tune in during the weeks ahead to our print and online editions, particularly the “Elections” and “Citizens Agenda” subheadings in the navigation bar atop our website at cascadiadaily.com.

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