I’ve spent the last hour-plus trying to find out who is going to be on my ballot in the next month or so. Unsuccessfully, I might add. I did find some information, but I did not find complete information.
This situation is not surprising to me, but it is frustrating. The problem is partly due to the current (for nearly the last decade, now) newspaper arrangement in the two-county area.
According to candidate filings with Benton County, 4 names will be on the ballot in one Siloam Springs district for the position of justice of the peace. Nowhere online did I find which numbered district encompass what parts of the county. I did know that this district with 4 candidates was in at least part of this town, though, because I’ve seen candidates’ signs. (I also recognized the name of the incumbent from when I worked at the hometown newspaper.)
The local newspaper — Siloam Springs Herald-Leader — has mentioned two of the candidates’ names. The other two are nowhere to be found. [While I worked there, I made a concerted effort to include articles relevant to county politics.]
I had to check my voter registration card to learn that I won’t have to choose any of these candidates, since in my JP district, the incumbent is running unopposed.
Now my responsibility as voter must focus on the county-wide races: Collector, coroner, judge and sheriff.
The difficulty, though, is that it’s impossible to get information on these races. The county newspaper (Benton County Daily Record) faithfully interviews each candidate, but I can’t get the county newspaper. Well, I could go buy a copy on the newsstand each day, I suppose, but that’s expensive and annoying. I can’t get it delivered to my house, even if I wanted to. If I called and asked, I would instead be delivered the Northwest Arkansas Times, which is owned by the same company but is published in the county south of here and also covers mainly the one “city” in that county. It does not concern itself with lowly county races for the neighboring county.
I don’t think this problem is common throughout the country. I think it’s rather rare, in fact. But it’s still a problem. I have told the leadership of the company and of each of these newspapers about it before, when I worked for the local paper. Here’s the rub: The decision to exclusively offer the Times in Siloam Springs is based entirely on advertising, to the exclusion of content considerations.
The theory, several years ago when the situation was established, was that Siloam Springs residents drove south to Fayetteville — and not north to Rogers or Bentonville — for shopping and entertainment. This scenario, while quite probably true when the study was initially completed, is out of date and now inaccurate. Benton County’s major population centers have grown exponentially, and they have been the sites of most major retail growth in the past 5 years. More new restaurant options, the new mall, among other things, have undergirded the new situation, where Siloam Springs residents now sometimes go north and sometimes go south. The decision is no longer automatic.
At the very least, the company should offer Siloam Springs residents their choice of newspapers.