February 17, 2012 By Wayne Hanson
The 2012 presidential campaigns are rolling across the country. War chests are full, cellphones are blazing, and momentum is building among national candidates aspiring for a crushing victory on Super Tuesday, their party's nomination, and a move into — or return to — the White House and Oval Office.
Although few people will ever run for president, local races are meant to be accessible to nearly anyone. As Bill Moyers once said, "Democracy works when people claim it as their own." Voting is a major part of making democracy work, and so is running for office. Those who are wishing to run for mayor of Sacramento, Calif., for example, or one of this year's four City Council openings, are just beginning to navigate the process of becoming an official candidate for the June primary.
Photo: Sacramento Assistant Clerk Stephanie Mizuno
The application process is defined by the Constitution, statute and state and local codes, and is designed to ensure fairness, transparency and consistency, according to Sacramento Assistant Clerk Stephanie Mizuno. But Sacramento’s Candidate Instructional Guide is more than 70 pages long. The more regulated the process, the greater the opportunity for error.
Recently, Mizuno started assisting prospective candidates for Sacramento's June primary election. She created a series of nine videos from information in the guide, which contains all the regulations and actions that must be taken to run for office. "It's an opportunity for us to be more consistent and more efficient in providing information," Mizuno said. "It improves our ability to give specialized information and show how it relates to the process. And candidates take it away with them on a DVD or can access it at YouTube."
Caption: This video is the fifth of nine in an instructional series that guides a candidate through the documentation required to run for elective office in Sacramento this year. This video outlines the regulations associated with preparing a candidate statement.
Take, for example, something as apparently simple as “ballot designation.” Candidates have one of four designations they can choose, including “name of candidate's elective office,” “incumbent,” “appointed incumbent or appointed” and finally "principal profession, vocation or occupation." Each term — such as “principal,” “incumbent” and “profession” — is specifically defined. Any errors must be corrected before the filing deadline.
While the Sacramento City Clerk's Office is not an IT shop, its staff is tech savvy, as illustrated by a recent article about staff members use of mobile devices.
Mizuno encountered Camtasia Studio software and immediately recognized its potential. "I got the software, went on the developer's website, did some tutorials, learned how to use it, and was on my way," she said.
Mizuno also used Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Professional and Microsoft Paint. She pasted images into PowerPoint, and used animation functions to make items fly in to the PowerPoint. "Once the PowerPoint is done," she said, "I use Camtasia to put in the background and the music. Camtasia will record the screen, so the first two videos are actually recordings of the screen — they're my keystrokes of what I was showing and what I was verbalizing. The rest of them are the PowerPoint’s, with the illustrations and the audio. So Camtasia puts in the introduction, the background colors, transitions, the music, and then actually produces it." The end product is in MP4 format.
Mizuno thinks these videos will benefit Sacramento and the candidates because it should result in higher quality documentation that doesn't need to be sent back and forth for corrections. "The end result will save us hours on the back [end] in regard to validating a lot of the information and ensuring it was done completely," Mizuno said.
The Sacramento City Clerk’s Office planned to host an open forum in mid-February for anyone who wants to go into the office to watch the videos and ask questions about running for office.
Mizuno put the Candidate Instructional Guide online more than two months in advance, she said. "We wanted to get the videos out so that they can learn what it's about and ask themselves, 'Am I prepared to go through this?' Because it is a lot more than it appears on the surface." Candidates have been pleased with the videos, she said.
Phyllis Newton is a first-time candidate for Sacramento City Council, but as the owner of a law firm, she’s better prepared than most to navigate the complexities of filing for candidacy. Nevertheless, she was enthusiastic about Mizuno's videos. "I just thought that [the videos] were so well put together ... and the clarity was excellent,” Newton said. “Not only was it a really good product that the city developed, it was also presented well to the candidate — sensitive and thoughtful."
Why did Mizuno do it? Better customer service, she said. "After all, filling in the forms is just the first step of a difficult process. Once they qualify, they have to get out and hit the campaign trail, and that's where the hard work starts. So it shouldn't be hard to apply. Our goal is to make it much easier, more supportive and transparent."