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EDITORIAL: Paid letter policy takes effect

The political campaign season is underway!

Filings for public offices at the federal, state and local levels opened Tuesday, May 22 and will stay open through Tuesday, June 5. (The filing period for cities and school districts that do not have primaries is from July 31 to Aug. 14.)

We hope this draws some excitement not dread. This is the time to start learning about the candidates and doing some homework on the issues that are important to you.

The filing period also marks the start of the Echo Press' policy for political endorsement letters, which is now in effect through Election Day.

As in the past, election-related letters that advocate for or against a candidate, ballot measure or political party will be considered ads and are subject to a charge of 10-cents per word.

The word limit for political letters is 200 words, a bit shorter than the 300-word limit for regular letters to the editor. Payment for political letters must be paid in advance.

As with other letters, writers of political letters are limited to one letter per 30 days and they must include the writer's name, address and phone number (only the writer's name and city are published).

Letter writers can still address political issues — gun control, for example — as long as they stick to the issue instead of telling people to support certain candidates or a party.

The Echo Press started the paid letter policy decades ago as a way to deal with a huge volume of political endorsement letters. There was no way to print all of the letters we were receiving and other options — drawing letters at random or trying to select which letter was more worthy of printing than others — fell short of solving the problem.

Over the years, more and more newspapers have started charging for political letters as well. In recent months, the Echo Press' parent company, Forum Communications, began charging for political endorsement letters in all of its North Dakota-based newspapers, along with several other of its newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Most newspapers that have adopted this approach cite one main reason: Political campaigns for years have used newspaper opinion pages for what amounts to free advertising. As these letter-writing campaigns become more widespread and sophisticated — some campaigns even pay people to write letters to the editor — newspapers are flooded with requests to publish them, especially in the run-up to elections.

Some key dates to keep in mind for political endorsement letters:

• The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 14. The last batch of letters that endorse candidates for this election will be printed in the Wednesday, Aug. 8 issue of the Echo Press and must be received by 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 6.

• The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. The last batch of letters that endorse candidates will be printed in the Wednesday, Oct. 31 issue and must be received by 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 29.

No letters will be printed in the issue immediately before an election because there would be no time for a candidate to respond to any new issues.

Let's all strive for a fair, respectful exchange of opinions this election season. Even if the campaigning gets ugly at the state or national level, we encourage local residents and candidates to rise above the name-calling by focusing not on the perceived flaws in their opponents but on their own ideas and solutions.