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What They Think: Leave local elections as they are

An interim state government committee is considering whether to push local elections to November, pairing them with larger statewide and national elections. The idea is that doing so will increase voter turnout for local elections and, in effect, boost interest and voter participation.

The group met this week in Bismarck after a legislative resolution requested the study.

We urge the group to proceed slowly, since we’re not convinced a bulk approach is the best way to resolve important city issues that otherwise will be buried under the weight of national races.

Really, moving local elections from June to November is about math. Since more people show up for national elections — such as a presidential race — it means more people will be able to help decide smaller issues that are often uninteresting to the general public. Some proponents also say it will save public money that is spent on multiple election dates.

But is really a good idea?

The beast of local elections — low turnout — also is the beauty. The people who do come out for these contests generally are greatly interested in civic progress and therefore greatly interested in the outcome.

A massive turnout for a presidential election means many people who don’t know much about the issues in the city will be casting uneducated votes. Should people with no knowledge of a race really be voting on it?

And while June elections may not draw as many voters, they certainly aren’t held in secret or without their own fanfare.

We like June elections, because they create a climate in which local candidates and issue-backers can be featured. They are able to take center stage without the spotlight instead being cast upon a national race that is fired by partisan fuel.

Would we want the next mayor to be elected because he or she bought the most advertising and therefore had the most name recognition? Or should the next mayor be elected by people who paid attention to the issues, the candidates’ answers to key questions and their qualifications for the job? We prefer the latter.

As members of the state Government Administration Committee noted this week, troubles may arise from making a change to North Dakota’s election schedule. One is that voters simply may be confused by the new timetable; another is that it could create ballots that are too large for current voting machines. Secretary of State Al Jaeger says he doesn’t think it will really save any money.

We think it’s best to simply leave North Dakota’s local elections as they are.