Spring election season leaves the starting gate

WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION recount wrapping up – and completed here in Sheboygan County – the seemingly non-stop election season moves on to next spring’s local elections.

Potential candidates for councils and boards have already been able to circulate their nomination papers to run in the April 4 election for a week now.

Every city in the county will be electing city council members in April, while every village and every town will fill seats on their boards, and there will be elections for every school board in the county.

That’s in addition to voting for judges on the state, district and county level as well as a statewide vote for a superintendent of public instruction.

That means that every single voter in the county will have a chance to weigh in on elections that will have direct impact on their daily lives right where they live.

The people elected in April will set local budgets and property tax rates. They will decided how our children are educated and prepared for the future. They will decide how much police, fire and other protection we receive for our homes and properties. They will decide what streets will get fixed, how snow will be removed in the winter, what kind of recreation and leisure activities are available to all of us.

As former Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill famously put it, “All politics is local.” That phrase can have many meanings, but it is also very literally true – no more so than next April.

Yet local elections like the next one coming up too often see the lowest voter turnout, unfortunately.

And also unfortunately, they too often see a paucity of candidates and a plethora of uncontested races – and sometimes no race at all.

A survey by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance of municipal clerks last summer found that more than half of the cities and villages surveyed typically did not have contested local board or council seats.

Compare that, for instance, to the last presidential election, when a dozen and a half Republicans began the race for their party’s nomination.

According to the WTA, “Lack of interest in and knowledge of government is the leading reason cited,” for the lack of local interest in running for office.

Other reasons put forward include people are too busy, they don’t want to get involved, they’re not willing to make the commitment, or they’re satisfied with the way things are run locally and there are no pressing or divisive issues.

Whatever the reason, the result is that fewer and fewer people are running for local offices, leaving fewer and fewer contested races and fewer and fewer people voting in the election that has the greatest direct impact on their daily lives.

It may be a hard trend to buck, but it can only be hoped that this year’s election will bring out a greater number of candidates interested in getting involved in how their local community runs.

After all, democracy is meant to be a participator sport and works best when everyone is involved and committed, whether that’s running or voting for office.

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