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June 26, 2022

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In Our View: Filing week a reminder to research candidates

The Columbian
Published:

With this being filing week for political offices, Clark County voters should prepare for some homework.

For the first time, county council and county executive positions — such as auditor, clerk and sheriff — are nonpartisan. Candidates do not state a preference for a political party when filing for office, and parties will not be specified in the Voters’ Pamphlet or on the ballot.

That could leave some voters in the dark come the August primary or the November general election. It also could require a bit of work on the part of voters to determine which candidates best align with their views.

The change is the result of two county charter amendments passed last year. Each amendment was approved with about two-thirds of the vote. And that change could lead to more effective county government. As The Columbian wrote editorially last fall:

“While party affiliation can help inform voters about a candidate’s positions, it also can be misleading. Too often, voters are swayed by an R or a D next to a name rather than a candidate’s qualifications or experience. There is no reason the county auditor (the top local elections official) or the sheriff should have to declare allegiance to one party or another. When it comes to county councilors, cities throughout Clark County have nonpartisan council elections and still manage to come up with effective governance. Removing party affiliation would help return the focus to governing and away from the partisan rancor that is a disease upon our democracy.”

Indeed, rancor is a pox on our current political system, and the removal of party affiliations will not solve that. Informed voters will be aware if a candidate has long-time involvement with one party or the other, and candidates who previously have run for office will have a party affiliation attached to their names.

But if voters can focus on specific issues rather than a capital letter next to a candidate’s name, our community will benefit.

Notably, the change only applies to county positions. Candidates for congressional representative from Washington’s 3rd District, for example, will still promote their party affiliation. And the top two vote-getters in each primary race still will advance to the general election, with or without party affiliation.

The most noticeable impact likely will be in races for Clark County Council. Three of the five positions are on the ballot this fall, and incumbents for two of those — Democrat Temple Lentz and Republican Julie Olson — have announced they will not seek reelection. The other seat on this year’s ballot is held by Richard Rylander Jr., who was recently appointed to the position.

Which brings us to the idea of homework for voters.

According to the Clark County Elections website, 32 offices will be on the ballot, and nine of those are newly nonpartisan. That includes the high-profile position of Clark County sheriff, with incumbent Chuck Atkins choosing not to seek reelection.

Where voters previously could support their preferred party if they were not familiar with the candidates, now they will have to become familiar. That requires seeking out candidates’ websites to learn their priorities and following media coverage of the races.

It is likely that some voters will look at the ballot and decline to make a choice for nonpartisan races. Party affiliation can, at times, be informative.

But when it comes to this year’s election, we are reminded of an axiom about democracy: We get the government we deserve.

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