By editorial board • 

Lack of contested local races a missed opportunity for voters

A lack of interest in seeking office raises concerns about apathy and complacency on the part of the citizenry. Local politics and policies are apparently not seen as sufficiently important in everyday life.

We don’t detect any dire need for changeover in elected officials in Yamhill County cities. Overall, we’d give the group of local volunteer policymakers a passing grade. 
But we are disappointed nonetheless in the paucity of contested races, particularly in the county’s two largest cities. McMinnville and Newberg each have three council seats up, but they have both drawn just one candidate.

Our lack of enthusiasm has nothing to do with who stands to claim those seats. It stems from the opportunity contested races offer for civic dialogue.

Contested elections encourage voters who might otherwise ignore local government to engage in the issues at hand, at least briefly. They force candidates to ask fellow members of the community what matters to them, and explain how local government affects — or fails to affect — their lives.

There are myriad topics that require, but frequently don’t receive, vetting in the public sphere. And contested races reflect one of the sole means.

Sharing the ballot with presidential candidates can have either a positive of negative influence on local government elections. They draw more voters, but can turn people with their negativity.

A few of the county’s smaller towns are offering a bit of opportunity for productive discourse this November.

Leading the way is Carlton, with five candidates vying for three council positions on an at-large basis, and Mayor Kathie Oriet facing a challenge from Darin Proebstel. Five council hopefuls are also tilting for three open seats in Dayton, and four candidates have filed for three open seats in both Willamina and Dundee.

On the other hand, Amity has drawn just one candidate for two of its three seats, and no candidates for the third.

Interestingly, Amity joins McMinnville and Newberg in featuring head-to-head rather than at-large formats. It would seem at-large balloting is a better draw. Maybe it’s worth examining if electing by ward or district, as the two cities do, discourages civic participation.

There is one “big city” race on the calendar, for mayor of McMinnville. It pits Councilor Scott Hill against frequent public commentator Jared Miller.

Given Hill’s prominence in local government versus Miller’s lack of it, we don’t expect the race to generate much campaigning and thus much attention. But this year’s Trump phenomenon proves you can never know for sure how a constituency will act.

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