Stickers on top of a ballot box on Wednesday, September 30. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem-Keizer’s NAACP normally invites candidates for local office to meet with its members, but the racial justice organization is going a step further this year, with a three-night virtual candidate forum for Marion and Polk County races.

Nearly a dozen community groups and organizations representing people of color in the Salem area will join in, including Mano a Mano, Latinos Unidos Siempre, the Micronesian Islander Community and the Sikh Seva Foundation.

Forums will be broadcast on Capital Community Media and YouTube starting Wednesday from 6-7:30 p.m. nightly from Oct. 7 to 9, with simultaneous translation into Spanish. They will also air on KMUZ and KTUP Radio Poder, a Spanish-language station.

“This is a critical election year and it’s an election year that’s critical at all levels of government, local, county and state,” said Benny Williams, president of the Salem-Keizer NAACP.

The NAACP is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates for public office, though several candidates decided not to participate because of concerns about the fairness of the forum due to the political endorsements or learnings of other involved groups.

Williams said the chapter began discussing in August how they could do more to encourage people to be informed voters.

That discussion led to the idea for a forum, and the local chapter of the NAACP formed a task force to organize the event and otherwise encourage people to vote. Williams said NAACP members reached out to other groups representing people of color in the mid-Willamette Valley and got a positive response to the idea, with Mano a Mano and PCUN, Oregon’s farmworkers union, providing translation services.

Members of participating groups came up with questions and will moderate the forums, which Williams said will focus on issues of concern to communities of color. He said having candidates publicly state their positions is especially important “given all the dramatic changes that 2020 has brought into play” around issues of racial justice.

Wednesday’s forum will focus on candidates for office in Keizer and state legislative districts in north Marion County. Thursday and Friday’s forums include legislative candidates for districts covering Salem, and candidates for Marion and Polk county offices. A full list of candidates appearing and links to watch the event are available on the NAACP website.

Not every candidate for local office is appearing, with some bowing out because of concerns about other participating organizations.

Senator Denyc Boles, who’s running to hold on to her District 10 seat, declined to participate because PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union, is among the organizers of the forum and has endorsed her opponent, Deb Patterson.

“I’m not going to participate in a forum that is fundamentally biased,” Boles wrote in an email to Salem Reporter. She said she has participated in other forums including those set up by Salem City Club.

Danielle Bethell, who’s running for Marion County Commissioner, declined to participate because of the involvement of Latinos Unidos Siempre, saying the group has attacked her personally in her role as school board director. Latinos Unidos Siempre has clashed publicly with the board while demanding a removal of police from local schools, with its members often saying board members support white supremacy in public comments in recent months.

Bethell said she has no issue with the local NAACP chapter. “I don’t feel it’s a safe place to enter,” Bethell said of the forum.

Williams said he’s excited to see the concerns of community groups of color front and center at a political event. He said it’s also a chance for the NAACP to expand its civic engagement work.

“This opportunity is the most vast and the most intricate effort that we’ve put into place,” he said.

ELECTION DETAILS

• Register to vote online or update your registration HERE.

• Last day to register: Tuesday, Oct. 13

• NOTE: Update your voter registration if you have moved; ballots are not forwarded like other mail.

• Update the mailing address for your ballot if you will be away from home. You can change your mailing address online here.

• Ballots mailed: Wednesday, Oct. 14

• Last day to mail ballot: Tuesday, Oct. 27

• Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. to a drop box or county elections office.

Saphara Harrell contributed reporting.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.