The Magic of the Open Mic Debates Series

I know what you are thinking. “Really, what’s so magical about a couple of debates?”  Yes, we are only talking about 2 events and yes, the combined attendance was less than 100 people. However, the ideation and implementation of the Open Mic Debate Series is the beginning of something powerful.

Regarding Ideation, the focus of the May 17th Kentucky Primary was completely consumed by the U.S. Presidential race.  There was an anticipation of a typical low voter turnout for the state.  One way to combat this challenge is to remind people that local politics matter!  So many people are so consumed by the Presidential race that they neglect all the other offices and candidates that will appear on their ballot.  This lack of awareness of local races seems to be a factor in low voter turnout.  Therefore, maybe the key to increasing voter turnout is to better inform voters of local races that impact them more directly than the Presidency.

It’s not enough to just do a voter registration drive.  Voter registration should always be followed by voter education.  That was the whole idea behind the Open Mic Debate Series.  The concept came from initial conversations about facilitating candidate forums for some Metro Council races.  At the heart of the matter, we knew that Metro Districts 2, 4, and 6 had races and we knew we wanted to help inform residents of those districts of their candidates considering that these districts have few races of this magnitude.

Volunteers & planning team

The IDEA of increasing voter turnout by specifically focusing on promoting the awareness of the local races is a genius way to make very direct impacts to somewhat broad but targeted demographics.  For example, only 1788 democratic ballots were casted in the 2012 primary in Metro District 2.  This year, Metro District 2 saw 3608.  Of course, there are many factors that attributed to doubling the primary turnout for this district but I strongly believe the heightened awareness via debate promotion was one of them.

Regarding implementation, it is absolutely amazing how the efforts of a few people and snowball into something so impactful.  The enormity of the work required was a bit overwhelming. The core planning team that consisted mainly of KTCF members and a 2 members of Louisville Urban League Young Professionals (LULYP) managed to schedule 2 separate events for the same week. 

We had to work with Louisville Public Library and Newburg Middle School to reserve venues.  Targeted marketing was a challenge considering due to the Derby being so close to the primary.  Charles W. Anderson Jr. Bar Association (formerly the Louisville Black Lawyers Association) and the UofL Malcolm X Debate Team assisted with the format, time keeping and moderation.  Forward Radio assisted provided audio and recording. Alpha Phi Alpha assisted with some flyer creation, promotion, and facilitation.  Many neighborhood organizations and churches aided in the promotion of the events as well.

District 2 debate

Furthermore, the organizational connections that were made and the relationships fostered while implementing these events set a sound foundation for implementing future events for similar causes.  Which brings me back to the magic,… what we are doing (done) has all the potential to become better.  The impact is extremely targeted but the outcome is limitless.  If we increase voter education and engagement at a local metro district level, who’s to say that doesn’t spark the same voters to take a wider yet more inform focus at their all the other local offices directly related to them?  Imagine the impact that these actions may have on General Election Turnout.  Conclusively, further ideation and implementation focused on Metro Council Debates has promise.

UoL Malcolm X Debate team w/ moderator & KFTC members