Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Some small towns running short on candidates

UPDATE 11/4: Some towns in Northern Georgia saw similar trends regarding a lack of political candidates, Andy Johns of the Chatanooga Times Free Press reports. In Dalton elections were cancelled after no candidates came forward to oppose incumbents. "Democracy was never designed to operate like this," Ken Ellinger, an associate professor of political science at Dalton State College, told Johns. "Competition brings out a lot of discussions about the issues." Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association disagrees, "I think most places it's (that) people are happy the way things are." (Read more)

Though political activity seemed to be at an all-time high a year ago, with a historic presidential election, this year many small towns across the country are struggling to find enough candidates to fill out a ballot. "State officials and political scientists say finding candidates has always been a problem for small towns and rural communities, but the recession has made it particularly tough this year," P. J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times reports. State officials across the country say there will be scores of races with just one candidate, and several with none at all.

"It's a very scary time out there, economically. They're under the gun with their own finances, let alone being responsible for their town's financial health," Marty Newell, chief operating officer of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Huffstutter. Experts agree that running small towns has become more complex over the years, and now when elected officials are faced with laying off city workers by the hundreds in some places the attraction of public office is even smaller. Some towns have attempted to reduce the number of elected offices to cope with a lack of candidates.

"Being a local politician, even in tiny towns, is not an easy job," Huffstutter writes. "The pay is low, the hours long and the complaints loud." In some towns, getting out of public office may be even harder than getting in: In 1987 residents of McClelland, Iowa, population 125, elected fire department engineer and diesel mechanic Emmett Dofner mayor by write-in ballot for the first time. Twenty-two years later, he's been elected 11 more times without ever requesting his name be on the ballot, and expects today's election to turn out much the same. "I can't say no," he told Huffstutter. "I can't leave my community in a lurch." (Read more) Generally, if offices are left vacant by an election, there are provisions for appointments.

1 comment:

neroden@gmail said...

I think there are simply too many offices in some cases.

Here in NY, we have city councils, mayors, elected fire and police chiefs and DAs (!).... and town(ship) councils, and in some places town executives, and county councils, and county executives,...

And honestly, the population isn't big enough to *need* all these overlapping elected offices. Big cities often have *fewer* offices on the ballot.

A lot of the governmental borders were set up in the 18th and 19th centuries when communication was slow and hard. It's faster now. Towns and villages which can't find candidates should consider consolidating with their neighbors or their surrounding counties.