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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Carfax For Candidates? Nonprofit Offers Politician Background Checks

Even though it is a mid-term election year, some 300 candidates are vying for 162 local, state and federal positions in Washington state alone.

So who are these would-be officeholders and what kind of troubles may they have had in the past? Formal background checks for candidates are not a part of the typical vetting process. But a former candidate wants to change that.

David Doud thinks there’s a problem when you can find out more about the history of a used car than a candidate you’re casting a vote for. So now, Doud has created something called Candidate Verification.

“We’re kind of like the Carfax of politics,” he says.

Here’s how it works. Political candidates sign up for a free, voluntary background check that is then posted online. The background check looks at ten years of criminal and civil court records and verifies the candidate’s education and employment history.

Doud says he got the idea for background checks for candidates after unsuccessfully running for office himself twice in Seattle’s King County.

“Both times I ran for office, I ran against somebody who in one way, shape or form was not being fully forthright about issues in their background," says Doud. "And those issues really never came out in the right way in the campaign.”

Doud’s strategy for getting candidates on board is to get groups that endorse candidates to require the background check as part of the endorsement process. So far he has buy-in from the Municipal League, two political action committees and, most recently, the King County Republican Party.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."