Hosting a candidate forum, where candidates speak directly with voters and answer their questions, is one of the best ways to educate voters and form bonds with aspiring officeholders. Forums demonstrate our strong engagement and voice in public life to local civic leaders and those seeking elected office. Candidate forums tend to be high-profile, public events that unite community members and attract new participants to JCRCs, particularly young adults interested in politics.
- Invite all legally qualified candidates either through their campaign office or political party.
- If you are concerned about inviting a third party, the Internal Revenue Service offers additional guidance.
- Provide candidates with equal time to speak and interact with voters, either at the same session or through a sequential format.
- Typically, forum sessions last between 60 and 90 minutes.
- Hold the forum at a Jewish facility: a local Federation office, Jewish Community Center, synagogue or other place of worship, or other nonprofit or Jewish agency.
- Consider partnering with another Jewish community group, such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women; synagogues; and Hillels in your area.
Before reaching out to the candidates, JCRCs should meet with participating sponsors to determine the event’s rules, format, and preferred location. Once this is confirmed it is important to invite all candidates to appear together. If they refuse, you can hold a sequential debate where each candidate appears directly after the other and answers identical questions in the same format. Typically, candidates are willing to pose for a handshake photo-op.
Prepare six questions ahead of time for pre-identified lay leaders to ask candidates, after which the moderator can take three questions from the audience. Keep in mind that questions should reflect a broad range of topics, not just those deemed of interest to the sponsor(s), and should not express the organization’s position. Have golf pencils and cards ready for the audience to write down their questions.
Click here for suggested JCPA questions.
It is also important to have a moderator who will remain neutral at all times. Past moderators have included JCRC Chairs, local reporters, and political science professors.
Structuring the Forum
Candidate rules should govern the length of opening remarks and the amount of time allotted for responses and rebuttals to questions. Here is a suggested structure:
- JCRCs open the forum with a brief overview of their mission and the Jewish community’s commitment to voter education as the reason for hosting the forum. This is an important step as it frames the discussion for the candidates and the audience, and introduces them to your organization.
- Each candidate has three minutes for their opening statement. Remember to set the order in which candidates will speak ahead of time and ensure that each candidate is aware of the schedule.
- Ask six prepared questions. These can be asked by the moderator or by JCRC leaders. Question responses should be no longer than two minutes and candidates should take turns being the first to respond to questions. The opportunity for rebuttal is at your discretion, but should be no more than one minute.
- We encourage audience questions, but highly recommended that organizers have audience members write their questions on cards for a designated person or group to vet.
- Each candidate gets two to three minutes for their closing statement.
Once the organizers have determined the forum’s format and debate structure, the rules must be agreed to by each candidate before they will agree to participate.
After the event, feel free to host a short reception for community attendees and participating candidates. This provides JCRC leaders with the opportunity to foster more personal relationships with future elected officials, engage new participants, and build bonds with other community and civic leaders.