To improve local elections

Why this column freaked out the Dems: Click here. (Denver Post, Oct. 21) Has your ballot come in the mail yet? Mine just did. Yes, it’s a local election year – even though we’re already tired of the presidential candidates wooing us for next year, and still getting used to the new governor we elected last year. Two things concern me here. First, the candidates for city council and school board are a generic list, lacking the party labels we see when electing county commissioners, sheriffs and district attorneys, or state and federal officials. Second, I’m bothered that the ballot came in the mail at all.

Neither is good. The principles of self-government in our republic, consent of the governed and limitations on power, would work better if political parties weren’t excluded at the local level – and if personal responsibility hadn’t been overtaken by mass convenience in the voting process itself. Think about it as you study your ballot.

My wife and I vote, for example, in Centennial and the Cherry Creek school district. For city council in our ward, the options are George Shen and Patrick Anderson. For school board, we can pick between Jim O’Brien and Jennifer Herrera for one seat, Steve de Carteret and Randy Perlis for another. Grateful to them for running, it’s thankless and someone has to – but who are these people?

With some digging, one learns that the second name in each pair is a Democrat, while O’Brien and de Carteret “espouse Republican principles” (though the former isn't registered as such), and Shen is a Republican but barely out of college and in various ways not ready for prime time. For me as a GOP conservative, this makes the decision easier, though I’m still pondering.

It’s also dismaying to see council candidates running unopposed in two of Centennial’s remaining three wards, and to find that the Democratic incumbent in another ward has lined up his Republican fellow-councilmen as endorsers against two GOP challengers. Two of Cherry Creek’s four director districts likewise feature unopposed candidates.

These inscrutable nonpartisan local elections are a legacy of the Progressive era a hundred years ago, when faith in “scientific expertise” as a government panacea convinced many Americans that party platforms and loyalties were but a vehicle of selfishness, destined for history’s junkyard. What naïvete.

Our country’s broad, stable two-party system of R’s and D’s, enlivened by feisty upstarts such as the Greens and Libertarians, in fact performs a hugely valuable service for busy citizens both at election time and in between.

During campaigns the parties recruit, screen, and assist candidates, providing voters a recognized “brand” that signals what approach to government is on offer. The result is fewer empty ballot slots, fewer flaky office-seekers, and less guesswork when you sit down to vote. And once elected, party-affiliated candidates work together better and have a clearer standard to uphold; insider self-dealing and stealth are less rife.

A free society thrives on competition and information. You can’t have too much of either. On that logic, as a state senator, I repeatedly sought legislation to invite political parties into our school board races and RTD elections. We’d reap similar benefits if parties faced off in municipal politics.

My bills never stood a chance, though. Democrats (the same folks who are so proud of their national convention coming here next August, and so busy right now running undeclared slates in many localities) feigned horror at the “specter of partisanship,” and some Republicans gullibly believed them. Game over.

As for mail ballots themselves – almost the only kind being used this fall – a voter-fraud nightmare awaits as indifferent addressees toss them by the thousands, easy pickings for trash-bin scavengers. The culprit: a conspiracy of laziness between election officials and the public.

Voting is one of our sacred trusts as Americans. Is this the best we can do?