In a few weeks, Routt County will spend between $15,000 and $20,000 on primary elections that will accomplish nothing.
For the first time anyone can remember, there are no contested races in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. There is nothing for residents to decide, and turnout is likely to be abysmal. Still, 61 election judges will man polling places throughout the county for about 14 hours each on Aug. 13.
The county has no choice but to hold the primaries because the state provides no means for canceling them. "It does seem like a huge, tremendous waste of taxpayer assets to me," County Clerk Kay Weinland said. "But we still have to have an election and we still have to go through all the processes even if there are no races."
There are seven county-level offices to be decided in the November election. All of the incumbents are running for re-election, including Weinland, Commissioner Dan Ellison, Treasurer Jeannie Whiddon, Assessor Amy Williams, Sheriff John Warner, Coroner Doug Allen and Surveyor Ridgway Moon. All but Moon, an Independent, are Republicans.
None of the incumbents faces a challenger.
Sadly, the Democrats have no local candidates. That means nothing will be decided locally in the November election either. The Democrats have essentially ceded Routt County to the Republicans.
Some might see the lack of contested races as an affirmation of the work the incumbents are doing. Others might that the party system shouldn't be used to decide commissioner, sheriff, treasurer and other local offices. But it seems a shame that one party has come to dominate local politics so, especially when there are nearly as many registered Democrats, 3,500, as there are Republicans, 4,000. And the county has a record of supporting Democrats, including Bill Clinton, at the state and national level in the past.
Democratic Party Chairman Ben Beall, a former county commissioner, said he is frustrated the party doesn't have more candidates. He said many who might make good candidates simply aren't interested or don't have the time to run for local offices. And he said incumbents are extremely difficult to unseat at the local level. But incumbents will never be unseated (not that they necessarily should be in this election) if no one challenges them.
Year after year and election after election, we complain about the apathy voters show at the polls. Turnout continues to fall. Even after the historic presidential election of 2000 when every vote did count many voters simply don't bother.
But when there is absolutely nothing to decide as is the case with the primaries in Routt County next month you can't blame voters for not showing up. Beall and Republican Party Chairwoman Olive Morton said they would not encourage residents to vote in the primaries.
This year's election should be a wake-up call, particularly for local Democrats. If we are going to return to a healthy two-party system, the Democrats have got to do a better job of identifying, recruiting and supporting local candidates. Only then will the county's voters get what they deserve a choice in local elections.