Tuesday, voters around the county will go to the polls to select leaders for their villages, townships and school boards.
In some areas however, the choice has already been made. A look at ballots in some of the county’s smaller communities reveals that many races have more open positions than candidates running. In Magnetic Springs, the village council has four seats open and not a single name on the ballot.
“I don’t think there really is a word for that,” said Matthew McClellan, director of communications for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office. “We do see this sometimes.”
Local officials say they are more concerned about the “why” than the word.
“I don’t think there is a single reason,” said Bill Steele of the Union County Board of Elections. “I think there are a lot of partial reasons.”
Robert Parrott, of the Union County Board of Elections, said the reasons people don’t want to get involved can be as varied as the positions on the ballot.
Parrott said school board races especially can be “very unpopular.”
“You have to make a lot of unpopular decisions,” Parrott said.
He told the story of when he considered running for school board. Another member of the local bar association told him he would lose a lot of business if he did.
“You are just going to get people upset no matter what you do and no matter what you decide,” Parrott said.
He said that in villages, residents often feel they can’t really make a difference.
“People, especially in small towns, do not have the money to do a lot of these things and I think it is just easier to say ‘We aren’t going to get involved,’” Parrott said.
In comparison to Magnetic Springs or Milford Center and Unionville Center, which each have three candidates and four open seats, Plain City, which recently passed a levy for capital improvement, has nine candidates running for four spots.
Parrott explained that many villages have problems with big price tags. He said that with no money, things like infrastructure and capital improvements go by the wayside.
“They’ve got a lot of big issues to deal with and not a lot of money to use,” Parrott said. “A lot of these decisions are unpopular.”
Steele said there is also a shift in communities and potential candidates.
“Communities in the county are changing so rapidly and people don’t feel like they have that connection,” he said.
Parrott echoed that thought.
“They’ve lost a lot of their identity, so the importance of running for town government isn’t there,” Parrott said.
Steele said the ability to hold office is also more of a concern than it used to be. He said, in the past, older individuals ran for and held many public offices. He said that as people have to work later in life and have more responsibilities, they often do not have time for public service.
Steele added that serving in government is no longer seen with pride.
“I think government is seen as the enemy and nothing could be further from the truth,” Steele said.
He said in years past, civics was a required course in schools.
“I think one of the things we have to work on is inculcating a sense of civic pride and responsibility,” Steele said.
Tina LaRoche, director of the Union County Board of Elections, has worked to bring a focus on voting to schools, introducing a program at Marysville, Fairbanks and North Union high schools, as well as Marysville’s Early College High School.
The lack of candidates does not necessarily mean the government will stop running. According to Ohio Revised Code, “a person holding an office of public trust shall continue therein until his successor is elected or appointed and qualified, unless otherwise provided in the constitution or laws of this state.”
McClellan said that basically means that, for the purpose of continuity, if no one files for a position, “whoever is already holding the position will continue to hold it until a successor is elected or appointed.”
He said that while not ideal, there needs to be a way for government to function.
Still, local and state officials say they recognize that democracy works best when voters have a choice, but they do not necessarily know how to solve the problem or even if it is their job to do it if they could.
McClellan said the Secretary of State has worked to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. He said the secretary wants every eligible voter to do so, but has not focused attention on recruiting candidates.
“That’s not really what we do,” he said.
Board of election officials are at a loss.
“How do you get people involved? How do you get people to run? How do you get people to vote?” asked Parrott. “I don’t know how to solve it. People have to be interested in their own self government.”
He explained that often when there is interest and many candidates run, “they have a specific issue they are concerned about.”
Once the issue is resolved, one way or the other, the interest and participation fade away.
Parrott said that several years ago, Magnetic Springs discussed dissolving as a village because of a lack of money and interest. He said for a time, residents got involved to save the village.
“Now, they are right back at the same position they were at before,” Parrott said.
The local elections board said members and staff will continue to do all they can to encourage candidates. They said they realize the process of filing and running for office can be daunting.
“It has become so technical and you have so many rules and regulations from the state,” Parrott said.
A recent directive from the secretary of state’s office restricts local officials from offering some help to candidates once they arrive with their petitions.
The board is looking to begin a school for candidates to help potential applicants understand the process and get answers. The hope is that education will encourage participation.
“Anybody who wants information can come up to any one of us,” Steele said.
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