Every year, a new crop of candidates vie for public office and appear on the ballot in King County. They run for the following offices, and more:
Our job is to interview, evaluate and rate each one of them! It might surprise you to know how much time and energy goes into the ratings you see on this site, and how many people actually participate. This page is meant to let you in on our process.
Each spring, our first task (besides never-ending fundraising) is to design a revised Interview Questionnaire. The Questionnaire Committee solicits public input through notices in the local gay press and holds public meetings to devise a challenging and timely questionnaire which will elict useful information from the candidates during their face-to-face interview about their true attitudes towards the issues which are of concern to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities.
The questions should address the issues of the day and so it is revised every single year. In years past, we have asked as many as 65 questions or more. In 1997, we cut that number down to 31; in 1998, the number rose again to 41; in 1999-2001, the number was in the mid-30s. In 2002, however, we cut the questionnaire in half (to about 25 questions) to make room for 20 minutes of free conversation between the candidate and the interview panel. (The questionnaire is confidential, so unfortunately we cannot provide a sample here.)
A separate but similar questionnaire is designed specifically for judicial candidates, who are restricted in what they can talk about by their professional code of ethics. We have also designed yet another questionnaire geared towards school board candidates.
The next step is to produce a Written Questionnaire, which is sent to each candidate along with their invitation to come in for a face-to-face interview. This written questionnaire focuses on the candidate's record of activism on behalf of the GLBT communities, whether or not they are incumbents.
At the same time the questionnaires are being developed, SEAMEC hires an Interview Coordinator. His or her job is to contact every candidate who files for a public office in King County, by sending them a written questionnaire and an invitation to come for a face-to-face interview. These letters are followed up by phone calls to each campaign, and certified mail if no response is received, so we can make absolutely sure that we have reached each candidate.
Although the filing deadline for candidates is around August 1, invitations go out in late June and July so we may conduct all our interviews and make our ratings in time for distribution by late August, when absentee ballots are mailed out. (Nearly half of all Washington voters voted by absentee ballot in 1997 [Seattle P-I, 31 Aug 1998, p.1], and this number is expected to grow.)
The Interview Coordinator is also responsible for assembling volunteer interviewer panels. Our volunteers are drawn from our database of members, contributors and volunteers and from public notices in the gay press. Volunteer interviewers are asked to attend a training session just before the interviews begin, at which they will be acquainted with our Interview Questionnaire and a variety of situations pertaining to the interview itself. Hopefully, each panel will consist of no less than three persons; five to eight is an optimal figure for an average panel. Interviewers are asked to serve only on one panel but may elect to serve on more than one if they so desire. It can be addictive!
Once candidates and interviewers have been scheduled (an ongoing process), the interviews begin, usually in mid-July, and continue for five or six weeks, four or five days a week, and sometimes in as many as four locations (two in Seattle, one or two on the Eastside, and one in South King County) -- this does not include interviews done in Snohomish County, which are handled by SNOMEC. There can be as many as three interviews per night. If you do the math, that means we can handle up to 360 candidates, although in reality this figure is almost never reached:
During the interview itself, the interviewers read the questions on the Interview Questionnaire as written (they are not required to come up with their own questions; in fact, alterations to and elaboration on the questions is not allowed) and take notes as the candidates answer them. A short free discussion period has been instituted at the end of the formal interivew for a more casual and interactive exchange between the panel and the candidate, should anyone wish to use it to ask questions of each other.
It is often a very informative process for both interviewer and candidate, and particularly interesting to observe candidates think and answer questions they may never have had to consider. In this way, a candidate's true orientation to GLBT issues can often be discerned, and candidates often come away with a new and better understanding of the issues that concern our community.
When the interview is over, the candidate leaves, and the interviewers grade his/her answers and discuss their grades amongst themselves. The grades which result from this process are averaged within each Interview Questionnaire category (Equal Rights; Youth & Schools; Family Issues; HIV/AIDS/Health; General Awareness. Different categories apply to the School Board questionnaire) and are final. They may not be altered by the Steering Committee (which also awards an Overall Rating, see below) and they are published on our ratings sheets.
When the interviews are complete, the Steering Committee meets to award an Overall Rating, which is based not only on the interview, but also on all other available information on the candidate, including: voting record; answers to the Written Questionnaire; media reports; and research gathered from knowledgeable parties (political and community organizations). Each and every candidate is considered individually and the Steering Committee votes on each and every rating awarded, after a discussion of whatever length is merited. These ratings meetings are open to the public which may participate, but not vote.
When the ratings are final, it is time to produce a ratings sheet, print it, publicize it and distribute it. About 5,000 copies are distributed to bookstores, watering holes and other establishements throughout Seattle, and mailed to our mailing list. The ratings are also posted to our webpage and publicized on the Internet.
This process is repeated on a smaller scale between Primary and General Election Day, when we interview a small number of candidates who did not or could not interview before Primary Day. Another shorter ratings meeting is conducted, and another ratings sheet is produced and distributed for the General Election.
Of course, once the election has passed, there is still more work to keep us busy until the spring returns again. One of our most important ongoing tasks is Research. SEAMEC endeavors to collect as much information as possible about candidates and public officials. The sources for this information are varied: newspaper clippings; searches on the web; voting records of incumbents on key issues; campaign literature; ratings and other input from other organizations, etc.
An ongoing task that SEAMEC is to compile all the research we have on every candidate we have rated into a research database. When complete, this database will provide us with an invaluable resource which will enable us to make quicker, more informed and accurate ratings in the future. We need volunteers to help us compile all this information; your help would be greatly appreciated!
We also have Membership, Special Events and Fundraising committees, which keep track of our contributors and volunteers; plan events; and sustain us financially, respectively. These are integral to SEAMEC and your help and expertise in these areas can be put to good use.
Each year we try to improve our process in order to provide the best voter information to our community. With your support and participation, we can do that and make our influence felt in the halls of power.Return to SEAMEC home page