June 3, 2009 in Opinion

Democracy, voters need true choice on ballots

 

Today marks the midpoint of filing week in Washington, the period during which candidates for office sign up to appear on the ballots that voters will cast in the August primary. In theory, this week’s developments will launch vigorous discussion of the public policy choices facing towns, cities, school boards and scattered junior taxing districts.

The operative word here is “choices.”

Much can happen in the final two days of filing week, but so far a lot of contests in Spokane County are going uncontested.

Yes, it looks like Spokane’s three City Council races will have spirited competition, and a House vacancy in the 9th Legislative District has at least four rivals. But among the many town and city council positions, real races are scarce. Board positions in school, fire, water and cemetery districts provide an even blander political landscape.

Does it matter? If democratic principles are as holy as believed, it should.

Come August, and ultimately November, the community’s performance in self-government will be measured in terms of voter turnout. But first, some citizens must plunge into the process as candidates. It’s no small commitment, but someone has to articulate the choices that make elections meaningful.

The state Appeals Court seems to think so, anyway. It has ruled that the city of Spokane’s municipal court was invalid because the judges were elected countywide rather than by city voters only. That case is before the state Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the city created three municipal courts of its own, and those judgeships will be on the ballot this year.

But as of Tuesday, only one municipal court seat had attracted more than a single candidate. If nothing changes by Friday afternoon, voters still may not get to make the choice that the Appeals Court considered serious enough to warrant overturning criminal convictions.

In the first round of elections following a major education overhaul by the Legislature, school board seats were attracting their customary field of unopposed incumbents.

In Spokane Valley – where a controversial Sprague Avenue revitalization project is in the works and spats have erupted with Spokane County over contracted services including law enforcement and snow removal – three seats had attracted one candidate each, two of them incumbents.

History suggests that a flurry of activity is likely before the filing period ends. For the sake of choice, we hope so.

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