League of Women Voters of Indianapolis ditches candidate forums for online strategy

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For the first time, the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis did not host any candidate forums this year.

Instead, the non-partisan organization decided to spread information about candidates through a new online platform and encourage voting through a digital marketing campaign.

“In a perfect world, we would have been able to do both,” said Rhea Cain, president of the local chapter. “We only have so many resources.”League of Women Voters campaign

The national League of Women Voters has offered a national voter education platform called Vote411.org for years, but until this year, the Indianapolis chapter had not used it. The website provides state-specific information on how to register to vote, where and when to vote, and what’s on your ballot. It also provides responses from local candidates about where they stand on certain issues.

Erin Kelley, a member of the local chapter's board of directors, said the league decided the information campaign was a better use of its resources because it had become increasingly difficult to get candidates to participate in the forums and to attract enough voter interest in the events.

Cain said they usually did four forums that were spread out geographically, and they tried to invite candidates that had districts in the nearby areas. During the forums, candidates were asked questions similar to the ones featured on Vote411.org.

She said they’ve received a much higher response rate from candidates on the current effort than they previously did with the forums.

“We’re trying to give people as much non-partisan information as possible,” Cain said. “Then you just hope they show up and do their civic duty.”

Kelley said voters seem to prefer this option over the forums as well, because they can look up information on their candidates at any time.

“It’s been great to hear people talk about how they’re researching their ballot,” Kelley said.

To promote the change, the league launched an online advertising campaign in early October that features a variety of individuals from the community saying who they are and that they’re a voter (see screenshot above). For example, an ad featuring John Ketzenberger, director of government relations at the Nature Conservancy, says “I am a: Writer. Father. Hoosier. Voter” and promotes the Vote411 website.

The “I am a voter” campaign was produced by Indianapolis-based Well Done Marketing.

Kelley said the ads feature people from across the political spectrum, and they tried to create a diverse group.

“We made a very intentional effort to be as inclusive as possible,” Kelley said. “It really is a great snapshot of the city.”

A 60-second ad, 30-second ad and two 15-second ads are running online, plus there are a few static image ads being spread.

The league raised a total of $15,000 to cover the costs of the new strategy earlier this year.

The candidate forums might not be gone forever though. Cain said they are currently considering what to do for next year’s Indianapolis City-County Council races. At the very least, information will be on Vote411.org.

“This is something we will utilize again,” Cain said. “I think it’s been very successful.”

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