Have you ever wondered about the “R” or “D” after a candidate’s name as they appear on a ballot? They are there for a reason. Of course, they stand, respectively, for Republican or Democrat. They are a trigger for you, the voter; a shorthand cue to help you. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, but this is quite important.
Once again, city and county governments across the nation are attempting to end partisan local elections. Their reasons sound sweet on the surface. Holding non-partisan elections will end corruption led by urban political machines. Besides, local issues don’t fall along party lines since they are mostly fiscal in nature. And holding non-partisan races will end the party politics at the local level. Oh, that it would be so, but it is not.
Even at the local level, there are issues that will fall along party lines. This includes how your tax dollars are spent and where they are spent. It also includes how much is collected from you. Yet, because the election is local and the financial coffers are much smaller than those for state or national candidates, it is often quite difficult to learn any information on a local candidate. They simply don’t have the funds to do mass mailings, print palm cards, or do media commercials. Therefore, the voter is often in the dark about local candidates. We often rely on that “R” or “D” to give us some insight as to where a candidate might stand on issues.
While there is certainly enough corruption to fuel a bonfire in any municipality, there are many rural areas that suffer little to no urban influence. They are simply too far away geographically for the urban area to even care what happens in the rural areas. So that argument doesn’t hold water. Who needs urban corruption when there is plenty of corruption in a rural area anyway?
A county government is unique. It is unlike governing a city or a state. Within a county, there are competing interests, zoning matters, taxation matters, and more that must be dealt with carefully so as to not overburden one part of the county more than another. If the county has both very rural and very populated areas, it can be difficult to assuage the populations of both areas simultaneously. Some are under the impression that making elections non-partisan would help, but in fact, it would be harmful. Many of the issues facing a county government do actually fall along party lines.
“Removing the letters after candidate’s names on the ballot will not remove the partisan policies he or she holds.”1 Even suggesting that it might is comical. When a candidate is elected, his or her political beliefs and standards will not change. The candidate may have been able to hide any unpopular positions he has on issues during the election cycle, but his true colors will show once elected, regardless of the letter after his name. Shouldn’t voters have access to at least that letter when they cast their ballots?
Election officials, candidates, and government leaders, alike, seem to hope for a large voter turnout and an informed electorate. Yet those two points seem dichotomous. I’ve known many people who have showed up at the polls so that they could say they did their “civic duty,” but they knew nothing about candidates and only made their final choices as they drove past yard signs on the way to the poll. They were hardly informed about anything.
Having those letters after a candidate’s name will not tell you much about the candidate, especially since both parties have divisions within regarding single issues. However, having some information when voting is better than having none at all.