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Candidate online forum in Bay St. Louis may be the first of its kind

A unique online forum for municipal candidates in Bay St. Louis may be the first of its kind in the state, say volunteers who created the website.

According to Serve Bay St. Louis website (www.servebsl.com), the community project aims to help voters “compare answers, not ads.”

The website calls itself a one-stop-shop for local voting and offers comprehensive election information, including sample ballots, district maps, and registration information.  But the star of the mobile-friendly website is an online forum called “Meet the Candidates.”

22 out of 23 candidates running for mayor and city council in Bay St. Louis participated in the forum, providing short introductions, photos and answers to challenging questions submitted by voters.

The website was created by volunteers associated with The Shoofly Magazine (www.bslshoofly.com) a monthly online publication focusing on life in the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland.  The local newspaper, the Seacoast Echo, and the Hancock Chamber of Commerce are helping promote the site.

Shoofly publisher Ellis Anderson said volunteer team members have been working on the project since late 2016.  The nine-member volunteer team included four Democrats, four Republicans and one Independent.

“It’s exciting because we know we’re breaking new ground here,” she said.  “We’re pretty sure we’re the first online forum in the state, maybe the first in other states too.

“The feedback from both local candidates and voters has been extremely enthusiastic, so we’re hoping the project will inspire other communities to copy the site.”

While the site was labor intensive to create, its low cost makes it relatively easy to replicate.  Voters appreciate having real information accessible any time and qualified candidates with low budgets suddenly have a way to reach thousands of voters with their platforms.

Serve BSL may already be inspiring other communities.  One of the volunteers received a letter from a part-time neighbor who also lives in Boulder, Colorado.

“Serve BSL is fantastic.  Many, many, many thanks to you… and all others who are working on Serve BSL…  Boulder should have as good a site.”

Anderson, who also acts as the site’s webmaster, said this is the fourth online forum she’s created.  Each time, the process becomes a little smoother.

The groundwork is apparently paying off.  Local voters are exploring the site in large numbers, averaging about 1600 unique viewers per week and four times that many page views.  For a city with around 10,000 residents, that’s a hefty percentage.

The primary elections across Mississippi take place May 2, while the general municipal elections are slated for June 6.

For more information, go to www.servebsl.com

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