And while we could spend an entire column or three writing about the threats to democracy from twice-impeached President Donald Trump and his supporters — remember, they literally tried to overthrow the government — for now the focus is on local elections.
Prior to the August primary, The Columbian’s Editorial Board held remote interviews with candidates for local office, before their races were narrowed to two candidates. We then added a few more interviews in recent weeks for races that had only two candidates from the start. Unedited videos of those interviews are available online, and we have written editorials providing recommendations to voters.
These are a more important function of a community newspaper than weighing in on, say, a presidential contest. When the Editorial Board recommends a candidate for president, the odds are that we are not going to change anybody’s mind; voters are intimately familiar with the candidates. But those running for local office have not spent months plastered all over the news, and in many parts of the country there is a dearth of local media covering their races.
As the centrist Brookings Institution wrote in 2019: “The local news crisis has also precipitated a general disengagement from local democratic life. As Americans have shifted away from local news, turnout in state and local elections has fallen, and communities that have lost reporters have seen fewer candidates run for local office.”
That brings up some interesting fallout from an age when democracy is under attack — a handful of candidates always decline to meet with the Editorial Board. That is their choice, but it does not seem to be a good campaign strategy; for low-profile races, taking advantage of The Columbian’s platform is a good way to improve your name recognition and share your thoughts with voters.
In a phone conversation, one candidate told me, “Let’s face it, there’s no way in hell you’re going to endorse me.” We know now that he was right about that, but he still may have been able to sway some voters.
All of which adds to the drama of election season.
While encouraging citizens to be engaged with local elections can be a Sisyphean task, it plays a role in creating the kind of community in which we want to live. And isn’t that whole point of voting?