FAIRMONT — Each election year, the Marion County Chamber of Commerce holds a candidate forum that allows local candidates to speak to the people they may eventually represent, if elected.
This kind of community event could not happen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the chamber still wanted to introduce the candidates in some way, especially seeing that requests for absentee ballots shot up at the same time.
“Not only did the pandemic alter our event, it increased by many factors absentee ballot requests,” said Jonathan Board, chair of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors. “It dawned on us that we actually had a great opportunity here, as the need for that candidate constituent interaction persisted.”
In response to this need, the Chamber of Commerce invited candidates to record and submit videos, where they could describe their platform and tell the people of Marion County why they should vote for them. Many candidates obliged, and their videos can be found on the Chamber of Commerce’s new YouTube channel.
“We needed to provide a platform for those interactions,” Board said. “For the first time I believe in this county’s history, we established a fully moderated, vetted virtual candidate forum.”
According to Board, the chamber reached out to candidates for positions from the county commission, house of delegates, state senate, board of education, county magistrate, sheriff and prosecuting attorney. He said each candidate was instructed to submit up to a three minute video explaining their platform so people can get a better idea of who to vote for in the primary.
“We have seen candidates really step up and deliver everything from traditional speeches to an elevator pitch kind of thing,” Board said. “It is very much open forum, and we encourage everyone who is running for office to submit a video and we’ll publish it.”
These videos have racked up a total of more than 1,700 views, and viewers are able to leave comments with questions which the candidates can respond to as well.
“We’re getting that give and take that we really wanted,” Board said. “Now those who are voting through absentee ballot have that ability to talk directly with the candidate.”
Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, said it is important to the chamber that the voters of Marion County know who is running. She said the video platform exceeded her expectations.
“It’s a lot more work on our part than the candidates coming in and speaking with a panel,” Shaw said. “We as a chamber, we want the Marion County residents to be well informed when they vote.”
Seeing the response from the candidates as well as the viewers, Shaw believes this endeavor turned out well.
“We are very happy with the way this turned out,” Shaw said.
Board also said the videos are personal in that they are mostly recorded with a simple phone camera and not professionally produced. This way, voters can get an even better perspective on each candidate.
“What we appreciate is people aren’t just uploading professionally produced candidate videos,” Board said. “They’re often shooting with an iPhone or other device and speaking to the people of Marion County. It’s very personal and comfortable in that sense.”
While initially, the forum was only meant for local candidates who cover portions of Marion County, Board said it has earned the attention of candidates running on an even higher level, and their videos may soon appear on the channel. It will remain up for viewing until the primary, and from that point, Board said, the Chamber of Commerce staff will evaluate how to proceed for the general election in November.
“We’ll probably revisit it after the primary,” Board said. “We are working on it continually, so it will evolve and adapt to the general election.”