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The majority of local elections are uncontested. Money, time and civic engagement all play a factor.

Aug. 2, 2021 Updated Mon., Aug. 2, 2021 at 3:07 p.m.

By Greta Forslund Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE – Between them, the auditors of Chelan and Douglas counties have spent 36 years in office and have run in 10 elections. In all but two of those elections, they ran unopposed.

They’re not alone. An analysis of election data by the Wenatchee World found an average of about 74% of local elections, excluding precinct committee officers, went uncontested in Douglas County from 2011 to 2021. In Chelan County, the number was about 66%.

Even this year, with school board elections in Chelan County seeing the most candidate filings in at least 10 years, only about 35% of Chelan County positions are contested.

Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore and Douglas County Auditor Thad Duvall said it might seem surprising, but this trend is hardly abnormal. It’s rare for some districts and positions to have any candidates file at all, and many officials, auditors included, can go years without having a challenger.

Size of the district, prevalence of the election, public understanding of who can run, money available and the number of hot issues relating to the races all play a part in how many people decide to run, they said.

“I would like to see candidates representing all districts on the ballot, but I don’t have any control over those districts there,” Duvall said. “People have the right to organize these districts and to govern themselves individually, so even if I did want them to all be on the ballot, it’s up to them.”

Duvall and Moore said they think the counties have a good level of civic engagement. While the numbers of contested races may seem low, it’s not without reason, they said.

“I think it’s good to have choice,” Duvall said. “However, another dynamic that I have noticed is that if you have an elected official that’s doing a good job and there’s really not a lot of negative press or any controversy surrounding how they’re conducting their office … that’s also a situation where you typically have more uncontested races.”

That factor might be at play in the relatively high interest in school board positions this year, in which more candidates have filed to run than in any Chelan County school board election for at least 10 years.

“I think that’s based upon what primarily is a national discussion concerning how our kids are going to be educated, that has resulted in folks deciding, ‘You know what, this is my local school board, I can run for office, I’m going to get involved and try to have my voice heard,’” Moore said.

The auditors said running unopposed can either mean people are pleased with the job incumbents have been doing, or no major issues are pushing new people to get involved. And they’d know – Duvall and Moore both conduct the local elections and have experience running unopposed for their own positions.

Jim Bailey, a Wenatchee City Council member of 14 years, said he has run in three elections, one of which was uncontested. He said some people feel apathetic toward local government, or don’t have the time or interest to dedicate to being involved in local office, but that there is still interest, and people care about what goes on in their area.

“There’s the 20/80 rule, 20% of the people do 80% of the work,” he said. “But we really do have a lot of people in this community that when you need things done, there’s a lot of people that step up and do it.”

While the majority of local positions are uncontested, that says nothing of positions with even lower interest. The percentages of contested elections don’t include lapsed elections, in which no candidate files for a position, causing them not to appear on the ballot at all.

When an election lapses, either the incumbent remains in the position by default, or the other board members appoint someone to fill the position.

For some areas and positions, lapsed elections are more common than not. Nonpartisan positions like cemetery or hospital commissioners sometimes lapse year after year, usually leaving the incumbents to stay in the position until they resign.

While the auditors don’t get involved in recruiting people to run for local office, Duvall emphasized that when it comes to local democracy, “your vote is your voice.”“These legislative bodies that you’re electing affect individual lives at the local level,” he said. “So, it’s really important that voters be engaged, and they participate. … We always encourage higher voter turnout as possible and engagement by both the voters, and the candidates.”

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