Public Health at the Ballot Box: Podcast with Peter Watts

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM

As the 2020 presidential election draws near, it’s important that voters’ rights to both participate in the democratic process and to also stay safe from the ongoing threat of COVID-19. And whether that means they’ll do it at a polling station (while continuing to practice social distancing, we hope), by drop box, or by mail-in ballot, it’s equally important that voters clearly understand what they’ll be voting on. While the issues may be numerous and complex, the election materials themselves are required by the Plain Writing Act of 2010 to use clear communication that the public can understand and use.

In order for voters to be able to make informed decisions at the ballot box on issues that affect public health, they must first understand the information they hear, see, and read. To get a sense of what goes into writing ballot titles, I spoke with Peter Watts, an elections law attorney in Oregon about the importance of using plain language when sharing information with public audiences. As a city attorney who often writes ballot titles for taxes and levies in state and local elections, Peter has learned that using legalese and technical jargon can confuse voters and impact election results, particularly when the audience includes immigrants, non-English or limited-English speaking voters, or those with lower education levels.

Listen to our Podcast Conversation:

Peter O. Watts focuses his law practice on municipal, land use, and elections law for Oregon and Washington government bodies. Peter has received numerous accolades for his skill and abilities, including being named 2012’s Up & Coming Lawyer of the Year by the Daily Journal of Commerce.  Peter was also recognized as one of the Portland Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 Business Professionals in 2010, and has been recognized as a Rising Star by Oregon Super Lawyers Magazine a number of times.

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Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]