Last week the City Council voted 4-1 to have staff prepare an ordinance for municipal elections to be aligned with national elections.
I would have voted with the majority on this. I think the benefits outweigh the negatives. The reasons this is a good decision are simple. More people will show up to vote, and this is something everyone wants. Also, there is a cost with holding separate elections, and the city could save this money by holding the municipal elections at the same time.
But, like most issues, these positives are not alone, and there are definite downsides to holding municipal elections at the same time as national and state elections. The downsides are less significant than the upsides, but they need to be considered.
National and state elections can easily overshadow local elections. Every news and radio station, along with social media, will cover the national issues and candidates. It can be a challenge to get voters to pay attention to local ballot initiatives. Will it become even more difficult when you have candidates on the ballot, like President Donald Trump, who suck all the media coverage?
Not only that, but one of the great things about local elections is that they are not partisan. Voters focus on the people and the issues, rather than if there is an R or a D after their name. National politics have become almost hopelessly partisan. Because of the partisan nature of politics, there is always pressure on local politicians to become partisan. Many cities are no longer nonpartisan because of this pressure.
Inevitably, one party or the other thinks there is an advantage by making the elections partisan. I was very disappointed during the last election cycle when the candidate I endorsed tried to use a partisan endorsement to help their chances. I disagreed with this but realize such actions are constantly on the mind of politicians and parties who want any advantage they can get.
Such pressure is constant but will be increased by holding municipal elections right when we are most caught up in partisanship, during the national election cycle. While such partisanship may benefit a given party or person, it will be a negative on our community. Partisan politics will serve more as a stumbling block than a benefit when it comes to our community working together to come to real solutions.
As stated earlier, the cost savings and opportunity to increase voter turnout still make it worth it; but it will require us, as an electorate, to not be overly distracted by the 24/7 coverage of national politics and make sure we carve out the time to understand local issues and candidates. It will also call for us to make a firm commitment to keeping local politics nonpartisan and push against the constant tide that will push us in that direction, even when such tides would, in the short term, be in our favor.
Nathaniel Kaey Gee resides in Boulder City with his wife and six kids. He is a civil engineer by day and enjoys writing any chance he gets. You can follow his work on his blog www.thegeebrothers.com.