Anyone who needs further convincing that it's impossible to take the politics out of politics>"/>
Krist Novoselic's column runs every Tuesday on the Daily Weekly.
Anyone who needs further convincing that it's impossible to take the politics out of politics should look no further than King County, Washington.
Like the Florida butterfly ballot that wrecked the 2000 presidential election for Democrats, or Chicago ward politics where residents of cemeteries can still vote, as the center of the disputed 2004 governor's race, King County elections administration has gained a certain infamy in Washington state. And this distinction was made apparent during the 2008 election with GOP political signage that read, "Don't Let Seattle Steal This Election!".
This is the first time voters will pick the King County elections director, a task formerly handled by local lawmakers. And it's not a bad idea. Why not let the voters decide who counts the ballots? But the irony isn't lost that the current appointed elections director is a favorite to win. (If you live in King County, please be sure to postmark your ballot today.)
And what a great idea it was to make the office nonpartisan--this way party politics promises to stay out of the ethical obligation of counting ballots with fairness. Here's the lure of nonpartisan elections: By removing the party affiliation next to a candidate's name on the ballot, POOF--partisanship simply vanishes!
With six names on the ballot, the two leading candidates are each endorsed by the Republican or Democratic party. This only shows what a charade nonpartisan elections really are.
Party affiliation on the ballot is a cue to voters about the candidate running for office. It is a simple convenience for voters. Voters are often well-informed about, for example, the presidential candidates at the top of ballots, but may never have heard the names on down-ballot races of state legislators or public administration officials. That's when the cue or party affiliation comes in, to help voters choose--or not choose--a candidate.
But there's still the impression that taking partisan cues off the public ballot will remove partisanship from politics. You might as well hope or dream that passing out cake and candy will calm the kids down! And that's what nonpartisan elections attempt to do--take the politics out of politics!
Party politics have already entered the appointment for Ron Sims' soon-vacant county executive seat. Democratic State Chairman Dwight Pelz was quoted in the Seattle P-I: "We're hoping that a strong Democrat can emerge from the process as our next county executive."
But how can that be? King County now has its brand-new nonpartisan system! It doesn't matter, because there is no law that stops a party from promoting a candidate. Perhaps major and minor parties could start nominating candidates for local city council races that also have nonpartisan ballots? So what! It's up do the individual voter to determine the value of an association with a party. Voters can either love a party candidate or leave 'em in this regard.
This is a reason why state and local elections should be partisan on the ballot: because they're partisan in real life. In their quest for state office, many lawmakers have emerged from local nonpartisan offices to declare themselves Democrats or Republicans. It's not as though a sudden revelation came over these ambitious public servants which made them discover their political ideology--they already hold views that usually place them to the left or right of the center. The partisan ballot gives voters a signal as to which party caucus in Olympia a candidate hopes to join. And if the voter agrees with the party caucus, they will choose this candidate.
Some states have partisan elections for their judiciary. Washington is nonpartisan, but look at how politicized our state Supreme Court races have become. Federal judicial appointees and U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President--a partisan office. Also, the Washington Attorney General, the top law enforcer in the state, is a partisan position.
I believe voters are attracted to nonpartisan elections because they hold the Republican and Democratic parties in low esteem. At the same time, voters usually don't give independents and third-party candidates the time of day!
Nonpartisan elections seek to sanitize the democratic process. Party politics can be messy, but at least people are participating. And for better or worse, a party nomination acts as a winnowing process.
In the end, it's up to voters to decide who will best represent them in government. There's no reason we can't make the process easier with a little piece of information regarding a candidate's party affiliation on the ballot.