Tell us: What do you want candidates to talk about?


I was five years old when I cast my first vote -- and learned a few hard truths about democratic participation.

It was the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush was challenging Vice President Al Gore. As with every election, the future of American history hung in the balance and my daycare center used the opportunity to teach us a lesson about civics.

As I went to cast my ballot, I remembered my parents discussing the election. My five-year-old brain recalled one name: that of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. For no other reason than a five-year old’s version of “name recognition, Nader would be my choice..

Our mock election was as close as the real thing when the votes were tallied up, although we had no hanging chads or Supreme Court intervention. Bush eked out a victory over Gore by a single vote.

When I got home to tell my parents the news, they were mortified. They had not been Nader voters, as I had remembered. They liked Gore and were horrified at the news that their son had spoiled the elections with his uninformed vote.  

With one mock election, I learned how the first-past-the-post system encourages a two-party system, how a single issue can determine the outcome of an election, and the role of name recognition.

Two and half decades later, it’s time to learn all that again.

Elections and the subsequent peaceful transfer of power are the core exercise of a functioning democracy. In America, the news media has taken the role of relaying the candidates’ points of view and validating the elections. That’s why it’s the AP, Fox News and others who “call” elections – not the government or the parties.

In our age – fraught as it is with deep fakes, AI, Russian disinformation campaigns, election denial by a leading presidential candidate, and oh so much, much more – the role of media has stumbled into something I believe is not very useful.

The industry phrase we use to describe it is “horserace coverage.” This term encompasses stories about polling, the public’s perception of events and candidates’ differences.

Don’t get me wrong. That stuff can be important, and it’s interesting in the same way a close football game is interesting. However, the purpose of the media outlets that rely on it is not to inform the public better. Instead, horserace coverage is a reliable source of attention – and thus revenue – for a media outlet.

Put another way, horserace coverage is easy and cheap. And with media companies disinvesting in communities like ours, cheap and easy are hard to pass up.

But the simple fact is that we think you deserve better. We think the residents of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County deserve coverage that encourages more participation and leads to a more informed electorate.

That’s why we’re trying to do it differently this year. We’re following a model called “The Citizen’s Agenda.” The model is simple: Focus on the residents, not the candidates.

“We can’t guarantee this model will cause more people to go to the polls on Election Day,” the model’s authors say. “But we do know that it helps people understand their choices better and have more power in the democratic process.”

Doing this will require more work, but it’s work we want to do. We believe it will lead to a better product and, more importantly, to increasing the electorate's power and knowledge. The first step is asking you this question: What do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes?

Your answers will shape our coverage. If you’re reading this on social media, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, email us at or call us at 575-524-8061 and leave a message with Algernon or Justin.

Justin Garcia is a reporter at the Las Cruces Bulletin.

opinion, question, voting