Opinion

‘Verify more’ is TNT ed board mantra for 2017 election

Welcome to September, when yard signs with unfamiliar names blanket neighborhoods, earnest candidates press countless doorbells, and voters try to keep calm and carry on during the post-Labor Day march to Election Day. Can the parade of political endorsements be far behind?

This week, The News Tribune Editorial Board goes full throttle into election season, as we start several weeks of interviews with candidates who’ll appear on the November ballot.

We’re focusing on city council races in our three largest cities (Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup), plus the powerful economic decision-making body that all Pierce County voters help elect: the Port of Tacoma Commission. And while 2017 isn’t a state election year, there are special elections for a pair of local legislative seats on the ballot, so we’ve scheduled Q&A sessions with those candidates, too.

As people seeking office strive to burnish their credentials, being part of the vetting process is a duty we take seriously. We’re honored to be a small cog in the electoral thresher as voters try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But how do we cut through all the big talk, ensuring that candidates are who they say they are and have done what they say they did? It’s an important question, especially in an age when some politicians hide embarrassments and failures, embellish professional or educational resumes, and commit acts of stolen valor with regard to military service.

TNT journalists typically use basic public records to check candidate backgrounds. This year, we’re pleased to announce a partnership with a nonprofit group that will do a deeper dive for us, then post the results on its website.

CandidateVerification.org is a reputable Puget Sound organization that works with one of the world's largest screening companies, Sterling Talent Solutions. Overseen by a bipartisan board, CandidateVerification has won praise from Democrats and Republicans alike. It asks folks running for office to consent to a level of scrutiny comparable to what many job applicants go through. And really, that’s what candidates are doing: applying for a job to represent us in government.

The screening includes a multi-state criminal records check, a nationwide review of sex offender registries, plus an inspection of county and federal civil records reaching back 10 years. It also examines any job, school history or other resume credential a candidate agrees to have independently verified.

Think of it like a political Carfax report before you kick the tires on a first-time candidate — or a way to double-check a veteran politician you might’ve seen on a previous ballot. The Spokane Home Builders, one of many clients that uses the nonprofit’s services, describes it as “endorsement insurance for our members.”

We are the first newspaper editorial board in Washington to team up with CandidateVerification. Candidates are free to tell us to buzz off, but we advise them that not participating could affect the endorsement in their race.

The 2017 experiment is off to a good start, as more than half the people we’re scheduled to interview (or already interviewed before the August primary) have signed up for a background check. They understand this is not a game of “gotcha,” rather a chance to demonstrate transparency to voters.

We begin publishing endorsements in a few weeks. We hope you find them helpful when ballots hit your mailbox in late October. The database of background checks found at CandidateVerification.org should also be a useful resource, after more candidates respond.

To the extent that citizens and interest groups can nudge candidates not only to consent to this free screening but also to have the results posted online, we encourage them to do so.

Voters are entitled to know the background of every job prospect who wants to be hired on Nov. 7.

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