Dancing with the Devil at the Masquerade Ball — The Danger of Local Non-Partisan Elections

Admit it. 

We’ve all been there — filled with the self-congratulating puffery of being an active member of the voting electorate. Yes, engaged citizens that we are, sacrificing our lunch hour to perform this important civic duty — yet secretly enjoying the showmanship of being seen by our friends and neighbors as an informed voter. Having studied all the candidates and issues, we enter the booth with a stride of confidence, the very embodiment of democracy in action — third-world countries, watch and learn.  In a bold stroke of determination we check all the appropriate little ovals, until….

                                                       (uh oh)

…..who are these strange people at the bottom of the ballot? And why are they raining on my electoral moment of glory? 

We’re utterly stymied by those annoying down-ticket non-partisan races for trustees of some state university board or another, or some equally arcane contest we’ve never heard of, and really don’t even want to know about.  Some of us devise a guessing game similar to that employed on mandatory school tests that required advanced bluffing skills — hmmm…a sufficient randomization of  “answers” should do the trick — to maintain the appearance of being an informed voter. But, more often than not, we leave those little ovals empty, throwing away our vote.

Now, imagine if fully half of the ballot was suddenly just a list of names with no party affiliation as guidance.

Republicans have discovered that this is yet another insidiously clever way to make voting even more cumbersome. We’ve seen the other dirty little tricks they’ve been pulling state-by-state over the years — making voter registration difficult, road-blocking absentee voting, alienating college students through residency rules, requiring specific forms of identification, moving polling places at the last minute, creating actual road-blocks in the form of traffic detours so voters are unable to physically reach their polling place, dubious electronic voting technology with no paper trail and no dual control of records….the list is as long as the seemingly vast capacity of those who are willing to creatively thwart democracy.

But now they’ve got this new plan, and the beauty of it is Democrats think it’s a great idea too!  (Hint: It’s not.)  There is a push across the nation, region by region, to make all local elections non-partisan — mayors, council members, elders, commissioners, trustees, clerks, treasurers, sheriffs — no party affiliation would be allowed.

The arguments made for non-partisan races are these:

Nationally partisan political issues should not be allowed to inappropriately influence local races. (false)

The argument here is that voters should not determine local outcomes based on national issues. Sure, local elected officials have no power to set national public policy on the big issues, nor should they, so why worry about their positions on them? As it turns out, there’s good reason for an informed voter to want to know before casting their vote where a candidate stands on things such as corporate personhood, women’s rights, gay marriage, the environment, energy, global warming, et cetera. Local municipalities can, and often do, exercise signifcant regional control on many of those topics and more. They have the power to pass ordinances that limit individual rights, destroy the environment, and expand corporate powers at the expense of the community. It’s safe to assume that for some candidates, these things are their sole purpose for running.

Partisanship is irrelevant to local issues. (false)

As a variation on the above argument, which at first blush, seems like a reasonable statement. It is erroneously believed that once elected, officials will simply not be focused on national issues.  The mantra goes like this:  “There’s no Democratic way or Republican way to ….fill a pot-hole, pick-up garbage, or run a library”. But as mentioned above, there are distinctly Democratic and Republican ways to run local units of government that have profound effects on their communities…including how pot-holes are filled, garbage is collected, and libraries are run.  Zoning law, funding of services and allocation of resources, taxation, multitudes of ordinances, planning — these are all at some level impacted by the politics of the elected officials.

Non-partisan races level the playing field for candidates from minority parties. (false)

Gimme a break! The parties know exactly who their candidates are and where to spend their time and money. Local Chambers of Commerce and Republican parties work hand-in-hand recruiting and grooming puppet candidates, and that certainly isn’t going to stop if the race goes non-partisan. The only difference will be that voter ignorance will increase without the party tags.

Partisan races encourage candidates to do and say outrageously offensive things knowing that the “R” or “D” after their name will guarantee their election. (false)

Yes, we are all currently enduring the daily barrage of deeply offensive crazy-talk from the 2012 GOP presidential contender clown show, and it is worrisome to ponder the possibility that any one of these bigoted mental-midgets could be elected to lead our country, but keep in mind that all their snarky one-liners are fodder for their defeat at the hands of third-party ads.  The temptation to say crazy shit while slugging it out in the primaries often comes at a significant cost in the general election. Ask any campaign manager and they’ll tell you that putting a muzzle on divisive and hate-filled speech is a constant battle. This especially holds true in local races which often live or die based on just one article in their local paper. So please, by all means, let the crazy talk ensue.

Voters are sick and tired of partisan bickering interferring with getting the job done. (half true)

Dems, uh sorry, but it’s just you guys that are so disgusted with partisanship.  Republicans actually love it — because it almost always translates into a public policy victory for them.

So why then are they pushing for non-partisan local elections? Read on. 

Non-partisan local elections = advantage: Republican

It’s no coincidence that it is Republicans that are advancing the local non-partisan movement. They know the statistics of voting behavior are on their side when the electorate is unable to identify a candidate’s party affiliation.

Party identification is a major motivator for both Democrats and Republicans to get out the vote, but when that local-level affiliation is obscured through non-partisan races it tends to discourage more Democrats than Republicans from going to the polls. Now, think for a moment about the impact that would have on Presidential and mid-term elections. If even a small percentage of Dems stay home because of this, it would have a disturbing effect on up-ticket races. A point not lost on Republicans.

Additionally, non-partisan candidates have a harder time fundraising, and given that local-level Republicans are typically wealthier, and often better connected to money in general, than their Dem counterparts, the non-partisan model gives entree to widening the already existing money-gap in their respective campaigns.

Where are Republicans pushing the hardest for the transition to non-partisanship?

Wherever they’re already in power. Sitting officials enjoy an election advantage to begin with, but the non-partisan ballot super-charges the power of incumbency. When the “R” or “D” is removed from the ticket, and folks don’t know who’s hiding behind the non-partisan mask, they tend to vote for the devil they know. 

Non-partisan elections truly are an invitation to dance with the devil.

Amy Kerr Hardin







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4 Responses to Dancing with the Devil at the Masquerade Ball — The Danger of Local Non-Partisan Elections

  1. Randy Priest says:

    Seems like you ripped a few pages right out of the Mackinac Center’s playbook, but no sources are revealed. Just curious (because this is somewhat disturbing) – where did you get this? Are there any incidents you can cite? Would be good to know before I pass this on.

    • Joel Casler says:

      Traverse City’s Mayor, Mike Estes! For years was a member of the Republican party, even chaired the County Rep. party for one or two terms. The guy couldn’t get elected to “dog catcher”. Got whiffed in at least one school board election and at least one shot at the city commision. Around 2002 he had an epipheny and changed his party affiliation (whoa be it to us). Sucking up to some of the up and coming politico’s i.e. then A.G., Granholm. This yahoo ran for the State Senate and was promptly throttled by a two-term House member in a firmly held Republican district. As time passed he alligned himself with the local Dems. even testing the waters to become Party Chair. We kept him at arms length for the position of chair but the newer members did not have the history that some of us did. Most of us were willing to overlook his past because of what we thought he was doing to help the Party (or so we thought). Well, to make a long story short he ran for a newer position for a two year term as Traverse City’s Mayor. Running on a slate with two known Dems. for City Commision they all won their “Non-Partisan” races. Promptly after his “Non-Partisan” victory he resigned from the County’s executive committee and withdrew his membership from the County Democratic party. The explanation for this was that he was now in a non-partisan office and should not feel beholdin’ to any single party. So an unpopular Republican solicited help from unwitting Democrats to win office and run roughshod over the people that unknowingly supported a political opportunist for a local “Non-Partisan” position. My Stomach Hurts!

  2. webartogo says:

    The problem was and is Rick Snyder is bought and sold by ALEC. He’s their lapdog.
    Every think tank in the nation is busy writing and selling Model Legislation favoring whatever they want to all the politicians to pass into laws.
    This is not how a democracy or a republic works.
    It should be illegal for anyone other than an elected official to write and pass laws.
    Not taking what is written by an outside entity and passed on to legislators.
    It should be criminal to take something that was not written by an elected official and pass it into law.

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