In Our View: Elections Can Help Cure Ills

Filing week reminds us of how important it is for us to be engaged in the process

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American politics are not in the healthiest of conditions, with cynicism and division infecting our system of government.

While that is hardly insightful, it serves as a springboard for pointing out one small step toward fixing what ails our politics. This is filing week for candidates to announce their intention to run for public office this year, with sign-ups being open through Friday. In other words, this week marks an opportunity for people to become engaged in the process and start to make a difference in their community.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once urged: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Although the tendency is to focus upon what is happening at the highest levels of government in Washington, D.C., the engine for real change often is found at the grass-roots level. City councilors and county officials and school board members can have a greater impact upon the daily lives of citizens than politicians at the national level.

Because of that, it is important for engaged, qualified candidates to come forward this week and throw their hat into the ring. With this being an odd-numbered year, the ballot will feature nonpartisan races at the local level rather than the battalion of legislative and state executive positions that dominated last year’s election.

Locally, that means a race for the mayor’s position in Vancouver, along with three city council members. It also means a variety of city council positions throughout Clark County along with 23 school board positions spread among nine districts. There also will be a high-profile race for an open seat on the Port of Vancouver commission. Applying for a position requires nothing more than a desire to contribute to the community and a filing fee equivalent to 1 percent of the position’s annual salary; details of the requirements can be found on the Clark County website (http://tinyurl.com/n8mvzur).

Last year’s contentious presidential election and the early days of the Donald Trump presidency have increased political engagement through many segments of American society. Citizens have a newfound appreciation of the need to be politically aware and a growing interest in becoming politically involved, and the hope is that such interest translates into competitive races for the August primary and the November general election.

The 2015 election in Clark County included notable races for the first Clark County chair and another new position on the county council. But far too many local races featured incumbents running unopposed. It is essential to our system of government that incumbents are pressed on the issues and held accountable for their actions, and a qualified challenger presents the most effective avenue for that. It also is essential for voters to be engaged; turnout for the 2015 general election was 34 percent in Clark County, and the hope is that increased political awareness extends to voters this time around.

Civic engagement, of course, is not limited to running for public office; there are numerous ways in which citizens can make a difference in their communities. But running for a school board or city council has been the launching pad for many political careers over the years, providing an important proving ground for those who aspire to higher office.

The bottom line is that elections provide an opportunity for improving the health of an ailing political system.