Direct Candidate Engagement
Direct candidate engagement happens when constituents and voters interact with a candidate (or other public official) in a way that draws attention to an issue, asks the target to commit to taking action, and gets the target to respond on the record. These interactions typically happen at a candidate’s town hall meeting, a meet-and-greet event, or at “rope line” interactions with the public. Here’s an example of ACLU voters asking Elizabeth Warren about immigration reform during her 2020 campaign.
Direct candidate engagement is important for a few reasons. First, it alerts candidates to what their constituents care about, hopefully setting their priorities once they’re elected. If a state legislator candidate is asked multiple times about how they’ll defend equitable and diverse curriculum, that issue will continue to be at the top of their mind. Second, it helps voters make educated decisions about who to vote for. If one school board candidate commits to voting against all book bans and another candidate does not commit, it’s easy to educate voters about which candidates align with their values. Finally, it holds public officials accountable once they are elected.
While interacting with public officials is always important, targeting candidates on the campaign trail is especially effective because this is where voters have more leverage: They’re seeking your votes and will be much more willing to listen and answer questions.
Here are some simple tips for direct candidate engagement:
- Maximize your chance of asking your question: Arrive early to ensure you get a good spot, position yourselves throughout the venue to maximize the chances you’ll be able to ask a question, appear engaged if the candidate is speaking before, and raise your hand quickly if the candidate is directly taking questions.
- Have your question ready: Impactful questions for candidates should be close-ended (able to be answered with yes/no), short (60 seconds or less), and prepared and practiced ahead of time. Introduce yourself briefly, and start your question with “will you promise to”, “will you support”, or “will you oppose”.
- Ask, listen, and respond: Be prepared for if the candidate dodges the question and gives a “fuzzy” answer. If this happens, you can interject — politely but persistently — to pose your core yes/no question again.
Make sure someone is recording: Hold the camera steadily and horizontally. It’s important to make sure you have the candidate’s response on the record.
Sample School Board Member Questionnaire
As the elected officials with the most day-to-day operation of schools, school board members play a critical role in centering principles of equity and inclusion in our schools. Recently, school board elections have become a flashpoint in the national debate surrounding how and what we teach in our schools. It is critical that the public understands candidates’ positions on key issues facing our schools. Below are sample questions that can be sent to school board candidates, or asked of them in person. After getting candidates on the record, it’s important to share this information with other voters so they can make an informed choice to support candidates who recognize the importance of culturally responsive education.
Here are some questions you may wish to include in a questionnaire to school board members to ensure they support our right to learn:
- Will you commit to ensuring that the district curriculum includes age-appropriate reflection on the roles of race, gender, and sexuality in America?
- Will you commit to ensuring that any effort to remove materials from district libraries undergoes a public process with ample opportunity for public comment?
- Will you prioritize the hiring and retention of diverse district leadership and staff?