Is It Time for Partisanship In Local Races?

It’s an odd-numbered election year in Georgia. And that means, except for few special elections to fill unexpired terms for State House and Senate seats, voters will cast their ballots today for mayors, city council members and school board members in what are non-partisan races.

So it was interesting when this email came over the transom last night:

Democrats Email

Clicking the link takes you to a website where you can input your email and zip code, then locate your polling place.

I can understand something like this coming from the national Democratic party in a state like New Jersey or Virginia, where partisan contests are going on. Buy why Georgia?

Maybe it’s because behind the scenes, some local races are more partisan than they look. Following the 2011 mayoral election in Snellville, the Democrats tweeted this:

They also listed their statewide electoral accomplishments in a blog post.

To be fair, Republicans get involved in local races as well, if not as openly as the Democrats do. Also in 2011, the Gwinnett GOP sponsored a robocall encouraging voters to elect P.K. Martin to the Lawrenceville city council.

Why all the interest from the political parties in these races? For the Democrats especially, it’s a good way to build a bench of candidates for higher-level offices down the road. And in a county like Gwinnett which is turning purple, Democrats hope that wins at the city level increase the chances of larger wins down the road.

The transformation of Georgia from a Democratic state to a Republican one started in Atlanta’s suburbs, but didn’t become statewide until Republicans began winning elections for sheriff in counties south of the Perimeter.

Periodically, I hear calls to convert partisan races to non-partisan ones. There’s even a national organization dedicated to this idea. I wonder if the interest here is to blur the lines and give the party out of power a chance in a race it couldn’t normally win if party affiliation were identified.

The major political parties understand the importance of getting their candidates on local ballots and winning local races, even if they are nominally non-partisan. Maybe it’s time we recognize that fact and turn local races into partisan contests.

19 comments

  1. drjay says:

    i think it should be left up to the local jurisdictions to decide…but i really think it would be overkill in most of the small towns that make up a great portion of the state…we have had local races around sav’h that were “cancelled” because there were exactly 6 people running for 6 seats on a city council, we have even had a couple where qualifying had to be extended or reopened because 5 people qualified for 6 seats…are we now going to try to have primaries in these towns as well, that seems expensive, esp. since most of these elections are off year…

  2. rightofcenter says:

    With all due respect, this is the worst idea I have seen in a long time. Because injecting partisanship into the process has worked so well at the state and federal level? The last thing we need is to put a political party in between our local officials and their constituents. Put me in the camp that says more offices should be non-partisan.

  3. I’m typically in favor of partisan races if for no other reason than a label is probably more information than the average voter knows about the candidates running. I’m also in favor of fewer primary races and more open generals, in other words, I have no problem with two Democrats or two Republicans running against each other in the general election if they got the most votes in the primary.

    My experience is primary voters typically do a good job of rejecting the most unqualified buffoons, whereas non-partisan races more often than not go to the guy fortunate enough to be born with the lowest letter last name in the alphabet.

    • drjay says:

      meh, it might be useful for the “big cities” to have partisan races…but unless you suck, you are going to be able to knock on pretty much every door in guyton or hephzibah and tell them why you want to be their mayor regardless of party affiliation…

  4. Doug Deal says:

    I’ve had my fill of R and D fans going at each other. It is disgusting what someone with one letter will allow another person of the same letter get away with because they care more about their letter than the country.

    We would be better off if all political affiliation was removed from everything at every level.

  5. eddiep says:

    The partisan/nonpartisan election is usually one issue most people are convinced they understand. Most politicians want to gain political advantage by hiding information from the voter, if you are in that camp at least be honest about your motives.
    Fact nonpartisan elections result in less informed and less engaged voters.
    “The findings could hardly be clearer: in nine out of ten cases, the models show significantly higher
    levels of engagement and opinionation among respondents in partisan than nonpartisan cities.” (Holbrook & Kaufmann, 2012. Partisan Context and Political Behavior in U.S. Cities,p26) 
    Fact nonpartisan elections suppress voter participation.
    “Ultimately we find strong and clear support that the presence of partisan labels increases voter participation.” (Bonneau & Cann, 2012. Individual-Level Factors and Voter Participation in Judicial Elections,p17).
    If you believe in more participation by a better informed voter, how can you justify supporting nonpartisan elections? I notice the unsubstantiated opinion is the stock and trade of most who post on this issue, usually in an attempt to hide their true motive (refer to my second sentence).

    • drjay says:

      my experience with small town elections have been the that the “parties” involved in contested races tend to be old side of town vs new side of town, first baptist church folks vs united methodist church folks, folks that want a new senior center vs folks that think it’s a waste of money, folks that want to let the ymca run the rec dept. vs those that want to keep it under the city’s umbrella—and these issues seem to transcend the normal d and r split you would see in house races and such…again maybe that’s not true for atlanta or augusta or even sandy springs, but it is in claxton and darien and jesup…

          • drjay says:

            i will also add that i have run in non partisan races for city council and the questions i was asked were specifically was i in favor of the ymca running our rec dept. and what my opinion was about a cell phone tower that was placed near one of the schools…i was rarely asked my party affiliation and never answered the question evasively, and i think my website and the press release announcing my run included references to my being in gop organizations…

  6. benevolus says:

    Just because there isn’t a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ on the ballot doesn’t mean the candidate isn’t politically affiliated.
    Anyone could still run as an independent if they want to. The lack of party affiliation on the ballot just obscures what should be obvious.

    • saltycracker says:

      Yes and putting an R by your name in local elections and supported by local tea parties or the chamber of commerce can be a clever strategy for the blue dogs or the me firsts.

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