Not all local races are contests, unfortunately

FILL-IN-THE-BLANK questions may be all right for school tests or television game shows, but they shouldn’t show up on election ballots.

After what seemed like an endless election season last year, highlighted by a highly-contested and heated presidential race, 2017 promises to be a lot quieter election year – in some cases too quiet.

The only election in Wisconsin this year will be the spring general election, with voting for municipal offices along with judgeships and the state superintendent of public instruction position.

Actually, there will be two chances to cast ballots this year, as a statewide primary Feb. 21 was assured when two challengers – John Humphries and Lowell Hintz – filed to run against incumbent Tony Evers for state superintendent of public instruction. The February primary will narrow that field down to two finalists for the April 4 general election.

But, while that choice will be on the primary ballot in February – along with a four-way race for mayor in the city of Sheboygan and a three-way race for one seat on the City Council there – most of the county will simply be narrowing the field in the statewide race in February.

For the first time in many years, an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has not even attracted any interest, as incumbent Justice Annette Ziegler is running for re-election unopposed. That’s in stark contrast to the spirited and at times vitriolic and expensive races that have taken place for open court seats in the recent past.

As elections go, the spring general election generally draws a much lower voter turnout than fall elections, and that’s a shame.

This is our chance to choose the people who make the decisions that most directly impact our every day lives – how our children are educated; what local services are provided and how they are paid for; what steps are taken to bring new business, industry and jobs to our community; and many, many more important decisions on a local, grassroots level – at home and right next door to us.

Most local positions on the April ballot will be uncontested races, as is quite often the case in local elections.

The glass half-full view would be that our local officials are doing a satisfactory job and no one sees a reason to run against them. The glass half-empty view is the apathy that keeps down voter turnout also dampens enthusiasm for participation in local government. It’s probably a case of a little bit of both; the glass is both half-empty and half-full.

Unfortunately, there are always a few cases – and this year is no different – where the glass seems to be completely empty.

At least for one seat on the Plymouth City Council and one position on the Howards Grove Village Board, there will be nobody for anyone to vote for in April.

Third District Alderman Jack Fernsler is not running for reelection to the Plymouth City Council and no one filed papers to run for the seat. In Howards Grove, only two incumbents filed to run for three open board seats – Dirk Hudson and Jeff Plass – while a third incumbent, Ed Pahl, is not running for re-election.

That leaves voters with a fill-in-the-blank test when it comes to voting for their local representatives next April, which is not always the best way to choose those who represent us and run our local governments. Healthy government should come from healthy competitions.

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