By asking candidates to support and champion real democracy reform at events like candidate forums and town halls, you put them on the spot and help ensure that you get answers on the record in front of fellow voters and the media.
Asking candidates directly about their positions is important, because it lets them know voters care about an issue and sets the terms of the debate. One of the obstacles to real democracy reform is a common belief that no one cares about fixing our broken system. By joining with thousands of other people across the country who are asking candidates about their views on reform and to come out in support of small-donor elections, redistricting reform, and voting rights, you’re helping to bust that myth. Not only are you showing that voters care about fixing our broken system, you’re helping to spread the word about solutions like small-donor elections, a proven way to make our democracy stronger and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
Getting your candidates on the record in support of democracy reform is easy, effective, and fun. Here’s a great example of how easy it can be. Below, you’ll find our guide, with some tips and suggestions for getting noticed and getting your questions answered:
How to get your candidates on the record:
- Find an event to attend: You can find events by following the candidate on social media, checking their website or calling their office, signing up for their emails, or on the Town Hall Project, which lists both official and campaign appearances for many candidates.
- Know the candidate’s history: Research the candidate’s positions, by visiting their website or their social media accounts. When asking your question, acknowledge if the candidate co-sponsors a relevant bill, if they talk about democracy reform on their website, or if they’ve signed on to any relevant pledges, like the “no corporate PAC” pledge.
- Prepare your question: We’ve provided sample questions below, asking candidate about their support for small-donor public financing, redistricting reform, and voting rights, including specific bills for federal candidates. You can also research the candidate’s position on democracy issues, or reference specific local events that have highlighted the need for reform, like ethics scandals, special interest giveaways, or restrictive voting laws. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen elections get more expensive than ever before, and it’s hard to feel like my voice matters. Voter ID laws and other restrictions have made it hard to vote in lots of places, and districts are gerrymandered to dilute voter’s voices. Will you release a democracy platform that will address big money in politics through small-donor public financing, protect voting rights, and promote fair redistricting?”
- Get a buddy (or two) to attend with you: This is more fun with friends! The more of you there are, the more likely it is that one of you will have a chance to ask your question – and there will be someone there to capture it on photo or video. Are you part of an Indivisible chapter or other local group? Invite other members to join you! Or just ask a couple neighbors or friends who live nearby to attend with you.
- Get there early: Show up early to the event to make sure you get a seat close to the front or the microphone, so you can easily be seen when it’s time to call on people for questions. If the event is taking written questions, arriving early will give you plenty of time to have everyone in your group submit their questions.
- Document your question: Make sure you have a designated video-taker, and that they’re ready to go when the question period starts. Check out our guide to documenting with video here.
- Be creative with ways to get your candidates on the record: If you didn’t get to ask your question, or if your candidates aren’t holding events for awhile, consider other ways to get them on the record! You can call in to a radio interview, write a letter to the editor, email their campaign, post on the candidate’s Facebook page, tweet at the candidate, or ask canvassers when they knock on your door. While asking the candidate in person at a public event is one of the best ways to get them on the record in support of democracy reform, the most important thing is that they hear from lots of different people.
- Report back: After you’ve asked your candidate to go on the record in support of democracy reform, let us know! If you don’t share your update with us, we can’t share it with others and hold those candidates accountable for their commitments. Hundreds of activists around the country are getting candidates on the record, and with your help, we can tell the story of a nationwide commitment to real democracy reform. Fill out our report back form here, share any videos with us, and tell us how it went.
It’s really important that you document both your question and the candidate’s answer so that we can hold them accountable for their commitments, or draw attention to their shortcomings.
Taking video on top of asking your question might feel like a lot to do, but it’s not hard and it’s very important. Here are some quick tips for making it even easier:
- Bring your phone. Almost all mobile phones now come with decent-to-very good cameras. This is by far the easiest way to capture video of the question and answer.
- Ask a friend. Bring a friend along and ask them to film both you and the candidate, that way you don’t have to do two things at once. If a friend can’t go with you, ask someone near you if they’ll film both you asking your question and the candidate’s answer.
- Face the light. You want the light source in front of your subject, or at least to the side. If it’s behind your subject, they will be too dark.
- Shoot horizontally. Turn your phone so that the long side faces up.
- Use the foot zoom. Closer is always better. That said, try not to use your digital zoom. Just walk closer to what you’re trying to film.
- Be aware of where the mic is. If you’re shooting video on your phone, be aware that the mic is in the phone, rather than closer to your subject. Point the mic toward the source of the sound, and try not to talk over sound that is happening further away that you are trying to capture.
Send us your video via our report-back form here, or share it on social media with the hashtag #FixDemocracyNow.
Here’s how to tweet at your candidates:
- Look up your candidate’s Twitter handle, either by searching on Twitter, or visiting their campaign website.
- Copy the below tweets – or write your own!- and paste the candidate’s Twitter handle after the “@.”
- Click “Tweet.” Thanks for working to get your candidates on the record!
- Hi @(candidate’s handle), will you release a platform to strengthen our democracy that includes small-donor public financing, voting rights legislation, and a plan for fair redistricting? #FixDemocracyNow
- Hi @(candidate’s handle), do you have a plan to strengthen our democracy and make sure everyone’s vote is counted? I hope you’ll release a democracy reform platform that has small-donor public financing, fair redistricting and voting rights legislation. #FixDemocracyNow
- I’m really concerned about the power campaign donors have in politics. Will you release a plan to address money in politics and other democracy issues, including small-donor public financing? #FixDemocracyNow
- I don’t feel like we’re going to see progress on climate change and other problems facing our country until we change how elections are funded and protect voting rights. Will you release a comprehensive democracy reform plan that includes small-donor public financing, voting rights, and fair redistricting reform? #FixDemocracyNow
I’m a voter in your district, and I’m deeply concerned by the state of our democracy. I feel like I can’t compete with the spending of wealthy campaign donors, and I’m disturbed by the roll-back of voting rights across the country. I hope you’ll release a comprehensive democracy reform platform that deals with money in politics, voting rights, and fair redistricting, and includes a small-donor public financing program. Will you take this step and stand up for the democracy we deserve?
Suggestion: If your candidate has signed the no corporate PAC or no fossil fuel money pledges or made another similar pledge, acknowledge that in your email to them, and encourage them to go a step further by releasing a comprehensive democracy reform platform.
One effective way to get a candidate’s attention is to write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Below are some tips and talking points for drafting an effective letter about ways to strengthen our democracy. We suggest you submit your letter to the local paper you read most frequently. To get you started, here’s a list of the 150 largest newspapers in the country and instructions for submitting letters. Alternatively, most newspaper’s websites have instructions for submitting letters on their editorial page.
How to write and submit a letter to the editor:
- Be personal – talk about why this issue matters to you and people in your community.
- Mention candidates by name to ensure your letter gets their attention, and be sure to urge them directly within the letter to support policies that will make our democracy work for everyone like small-donor public financing, automatic voter registration, and fair redistricting.
- Respond directly to a specific story or an issue that’s been in the news recently. Editors often like to publish letters to the editor that expand on an issue the paper has already covered, and some papers only publish letters that respond directly to a previously published article or opinion piece.
- Be brief and follow your paper’s submission guidelines. Aim for around 150-250 words, and be sure to check your paper’s length and format requirements before submitting your letter.
- Your local paper may request you to fill out an online form or email in your submission. If emailing, copy the text of the letter into the body of your email rather than attaching it.
- Over the last few years, we’ve seen elections get more expensive than ever before, and it’s hard to feel like my voice matters. Voter ID laws and other restrictions have made it hard to vote in lots of places, and districts are gerrymandered to dilute voter’s voices like my own.
- I’m a voter in [CANDIDATE’S] district, and I’m deeply concerned by the state of our democracy. I feel like I can’t compete with the spending of wealthy campaign donors, and I’m disturbed by the roll-back of voting rights across the country.
- I’m really concerned about the power campaign donors have in politics while too many people are getting shut out of our democracy. We’re not going to see progress on problems facing our country [name which one’s matter to you] until we change how our elections work to ensure every voice can be heard and everyone’s vote is counted.
- Our country’s Founders believed in a democracy of, by, and for the people–not of, by, and for the wealthy.
- I hope [CANDIDATE] will stand up for the democracy we deserve: one that works for all of us, not just big donors. Come November, I plan to cast my vote for leaders who will fight for comprehensive democracy reform supporting solutions like small-donor public financing, early voting and automatic voter registration, and fair redistricting.
Example letters to the editor:
- The Courier: System Serves Special Interests
- The Salt Lake Tribune: It is clear that our campaign system is a big mess
- The Courier-Post: We desperately need campaign finance reform
- Chicago Sun-Times: Public campaign financing could end big donor rule of government
- Morning Call: Corporations take over democracy