Non-Election Elections Do Not Promote Civic Involvement

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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OP/ED

Have you given up your opportunity to vote for write-in candidates for certain local boards, such as the Board of Education or the Fire Protection District?

Well, yes you have, whether you like it or not.  “Non-elections” are everywhere in Missouri local government. he Missouri Press Association opposes this trend of allowing “non-elections.” And now, the trend may be spreading to municipal elections.

This bad idea began more than a decade ago when county party committees were exempted from holding elections for committeemen and committeewomen.  That got the ball rolling, and Missouri started down the slippery slope.

Today, public school districts, hospital districts, water districts, fire districts, ambulance districts, have this exemption for non-partisan elections . . . “if the number of candidates who have filed for a particular office is equal to the number of positions in that office to be filled by the election, no election shall be held for such office, and the candidates shall assume the responsibilities of their offices at the same time and in the same manner as if they had been elected.”

House Bill 121 being considered by the Missouri House Elections Committee would allow “non-election elections” in cities, towns and villages having less than 35,000 population.  Rep. Tony Dugger (R-Hartville), a former county clerk, is sponsor of the bill.  Rep. Sue Entlicher (R-Bolivar), a former county clerk, is co-sponsor.  Rep. Dugger is chairman of the Elections Committee.  Rep. Entlicher is committee vice-chair.

During the past few sessions in Jefferson City, Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), also a member of the Elections Committee, has filed legislation to turn back the clock and require local boards to hold local elections, no matter how many candidates file for office.

But, opposition to Rep. Cox’s bills is always voiced at hearings by tax-funded organizations whose members seek to avoid election expenses.  Those expenses are divided up among entities holding elections on election day.  If the school district doesn’t hold an election, then other entities with candidates on the ballot pay for the election costs.

Currently, cities, towns and villages sometimes are saddled with all the election costs in April.  Those costs once were spread among the city, town, village, school district and other special districts.  But, now those districts are exempted.  The cities, towns and villages want the same deal, and House Bill 121 would exempt those with less than 35,000 population from always having elections, too.

Non-elections have created issues that legislators may not have anticipated.  One of the biggest problems is that non-elections eliminate any opportunity for write-in candidates once filing has closed.

There may be times when — during the period between the filing deadline and election day — voters discover something negative about a candidate, and they decide they don’t want that person to automatically “win” the non-election. And, House Bill 121 is proposing to set the candidate filing deadline two weeks earlier, so there would be even more time between filing deadline and election day.

It’s been reported that some persons wishing to file for local boards have been discouraged by officials, who say, “If you file for office, you’ll cost our district money.  We’ll have to hold an election.”

Strong-arm tactics to discourage candidate filings or any such pressure from local officials on citizens who want to run for office have no place in the election process.

Conceivably, there will come a day when no local non-partisan elections will be held in April in certain political subdivisions. That’s when civics books will need to be rewritten and Missouri students taught that they don’t, necessarily, need to go to the polls in April.

But, on the contrary, the Missouri Press Association believes all political subdivisions should hold elections, whether one candidate files for an office or a dozen candidates file.

Voters should perform their civic duty and vote candidates in to office. Write-in candidates should not be trumped by this law.  Names should be listed on a ballot in the polling booth so voters know who is seeking to represent them.

Candidates should be elected by the people.  This idea of “non-election elections” may have sounded good at the time, but it doesn’t promote citizen involvement.

Non-elections are not an example of good public policy for Missouri.
Contact your legislators and urge them to oppose the spread of non-elections in House Bill 121.

 

Doug Crews, Executive Director
Missouri Press Association, Columbia, MO

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