How do we get more voter participation in elections? More than just Idaho County has experienced low voter turnout in recent elections (notably, 14 percent in the May 16 election), and a northern Idaho legislator is planning what will be her third run to push forward an election consolidation bill.
Though its intent is to improve participation, our initial reaction is that it will create new issues in its mixing of partisan and nonpartisan races.
According to a Coeur d’Alene Press story, Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene) plans for next session a bill to move school board elections from May of odd-numbered years to the November election in even-numbered years.
The move would improve turnout in trustee elections, according to Souza.
On half of this effort we’ll agree as it falls in line from what elections officials, including in Idaho County, are talking about: Voters are wearied of elections. This year, so far, we’ve had two, with the potential for another in August, and then lastly in November. If you’re the average voter, you may not be paying much attention to all the action on the ballots, much less discerning what all these districts and boards are and who they represent.
So, Souza’s effort to move these into a busier, better publicized voting time will provide the greater voter draw and so more voice into those decisions.
The downside? It’s not wise to mix partisan and nonpartisan races.
Party politics already causes most of us a great many headaches as left and right fight each other at the sacrifice of reaching solutions and accomplishing progress on important local and national issues. We appreciate our nonpartisan races for their emphasis on the people running and their backgrounds and outlook on public service as a measure for who will get our votes.
Our fear is mixing nonpartisan races into years when we elect people to congress will taint those races with party politics, misdirecting voters on nonapplicable issues of Democrat versus Republican that push the real issues of the matter to the background. And as a side issue, we wouldn’t be surprised to see fewer candidates seek these spots, repelled by the potential for such political rancor.
We’re with Sen. Souza on consolidating elections – let’s have fewer and decide on more at those times – but not at the expense of escalating partisan politics. Condense those races into November, but keep them in the odd-numbered years.