Partisan vs. Nonpartisan

Partisan vs. Nonpartisan Local Elections

Elections Matter

Did you know?

Local candidate races are legally nonpartisan under the Washington State Constitution (Article 4, Section 29) and state statute (Revised Code of Washington (RCW 29A.36.171).

Many of the issues that city councils and other special jurisdictions, such as ports, school boards and public hospital boards are required to deal with are of a partisan nature, like parks, sewers, official compensation, water rates and so forth.

Proponents of non-partisan elections argue that at the local level, political parties are irrelevant to providing services. The famous saying for this situation is, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the garbage.” They also suggest that cooperation between officials belonging to different parties is more likely. Politicians in non-partisan

Some say when a candidate embraces the nonpartisan rases they are in effect agreeing to the good government philosophy.  Whereas others might say standing for the platform of a particular party offers insight into a candidates’ position.

We have to believe local election voters are tired of partisan politics and want what is best for the City from a standpoint of how it affects their daily life.  Roads, crosswalks, sewers, water and more should be based on factual information and solutions found based on what is best for the community.  Much of it is about contracts and budgets to run a city.  There are some issues like the environment or gun control that may become an issue, but no doubt the local office will make their view known when relevant. Most often during the campaign.

The Good Government process embraces taking an issue or challenge that needs to be addressed by first getting the facts > working with interested parties > educating the voters, > then find a suitable solution. Not that everyone agrees, but transparency, inclusiveness, and collaboration leads to open discussion and deliberations; opinions count and should be heard by the masses if necessary.  When a decision has to be reached you cannot be much more equitable than this process.  It certainly beats; issue > find the answer the elected official wants > debate not necessary on the facts > no inclusion > decision.

All but seven of the 30 most populous cities in the United States are designated as non-partisan elections

The Edmonds Civic Roundtable believes having nonpartisan, as required by Washington State law, is in fact the best way to run local elections. We have faith in our communities’ voters.  Our goal is to bring forth facts and other relevant information to the voters, so they are educated to the point of making an intelligent decision.

We do not expect everyone to agree, but we do think if an election or issue is decided on a nonpartisan basis it’s good for everyone. We hope you agree!

 Proponents of nonpartisan ballots suggest that[1]:

  • Political parties are irrelevant to providing services.
  • Cooperation between elected officials belonging to different parties is more likely.

Proponents for partisan elections argue that:

  • The absence of party labels confuses voters; a voter who must choose from among a group of candidates whom she knows nothing about will have no meaningful basis in casting a ballot.
  • In the absence of a party ballot, voters will turn to whatever cue is available, which often turns out to be the ethnicity of a candidate’s name.
  • Non-partisanship tends to produce elected officials more representative of the upper socioeconomic strata than of the general populace and aggravates the class bias in voter turnout because in true non-partisan systems there are no organizations of local party workers to bring lower-class citizens to the polls on election day.

Non-partisan elections also are more likely to encourage moderate candidates because candidates are more likely to have to seek votes from across the political spectrum[2]. This also leads to elections that are more competitive. For example, in Lansing, Michigan’s recent mayoral election both candidates in the general election were affiliated with the Democratic Party. However, it was a non-partisan election, which allowed the two to face off in the general election and forced them to campaign to voters across the spectrum.

Non-partisan elections also tend to be more competitive and are less likely to have candidates running unopposed. Many elected offices in areas that lean heavily to Republican or heavily Democratic are essentially decided in the Primary, with no member of the other party running in the general election. Non-partisan elections allow for competitive campaigns in these seats, giving the voters more options to choose from.

Opponents argue that the absence of party labels confuses voters and that in the absence of party affiliation, unprepared voters often turn to whatever cue is available, which often ends up being the ethnicity of a candidate’s name. Without a doubt, name recognition becomes more important in non-partisan elections. For all else they may bring, party identification does usually give voters some idea of where a candidate stands on certain issues.

Non-partisan elections place more burden on voters to seek information about individual candidates, rather than a party platform. While many would view this as a positive, if voters do not do their research, the result is an even less informed electorate, which can lead to lower voter participation.

[1] MacManus, Susan A. and Charles S. Bullock, III. “The Form, Structure, and Composition of America’s Municipalities in the New Millenium.” In The Municipal Year Book 2003. Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association 2003.  Ross, Bernard and Myron A. Levine. Urban Politics: Power in Metropolitan American, 6th edition. Florence, KY: Wadsworth Publishing, 2000.  Svara, James H. Two Decades of Continuity and Change in American City Councils. Washington, D.C.: National League of Cities, September 2003.

[2] Michigan State University, Eric Walcott, December 2017; non-partisan elections place more burden on voters to seek information about individual candidates, rather than a party platform. While many would view this as a positive, if voters do not do their research, the result is an even less informed electorate, which can lead to lower voter participation.