ANDERSON — Westside voters will have an opportunity Saturday to learn about the platform of candidates in several races, including school boards and judges, at a free public event.

Open to voters throughout the county, The We Are One Initiative Candidate Forum will take place from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at 2691 Nichol Ave.

“It’s basically to get the community to be aware of who is running for office,” said Larry McClendon, CEO of the Redwood Foundation and organizer of the event. “We often vote for candidates based off their party, and we don’t hear what’s on their platform.”

The nonpartisan event also includes a voter registration drive.

“The main purpose of the event is to get local residents out to register to vote,” McClendon said.

The forum is hosted by the Redwood Foundation in collaboration with eight other community organizations, including the Anderson-Madison County Branch of the NAACP, Anderson-Madison County Black Chamber of Commerce and the Leadership Academy of Madison County.

McClendon said he has commitments from about 80% of candidates running for office. Each candidate will be given two minutes to discuss his or her platform and will answer a prewritten question from the moderator.

The outdoor event includes a free hog roast.

Though many events have been canceled or postponed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, McClendon said he believes because of the step where Madison County is in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s emergency plan, having the event would be safe.

He said organizers have not consulted the Madison County Health Department because they expect fewer than 250 attendees. Masks will be available, and social distancing will be encouraged.

No police presence is expected for the event.

One unusual feature of the event is that candidates have been asked to contribute a prewrapped gift valued between $20 and $50 that will be given away as door prizes as an incentive to draw voters to the event. McClendon said organizers consulted with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Election Division to ensure this would be allowed.

“It’s to attract people to register to vote, not to vote for a certain candidate,” McClendon said.

Officials with the Election Division could not be reached for comment.

However, Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said since nothing is being requested from voters in exchange for the door prize, he doesn’t see why the request would be unlawful even though it is unusual.

“It does, I think, sound innocent enough, but it does have some ramifications and puts the candidates into a tricky situation,” he said. “I don’t think it fits under the terms of a bribe, but it comes with some unusual pressures for the candidate.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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