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Keep party affiliation out of local elections

by Daily Inter Lake
| October 24, 2021 12:00 AM

Voters in Kalispell and Whitefish have much to consider when poring over their ballot for the upcoming municipal elections.

Nine names appear on the Kalispell ballot, including seven candidates vying for City Council and two for mayor. Up north in Whitefish, the roster also shows nine candidates for three open seats on the City Council, but Mark Owens has dropped out so there are only eight Whitefish contenders.

What voters won’t find on their ballot are big “R” or “D” insignias next to each name. Municipal and school elections in Flathead County are nonpartisan, meaning a candidate’s party affiliation isn’t listed and, generally, political parties aren’t involved with campaigns.

Occasionally there is chatter from one party or the other about ending this standard. We strongly advise against it.

Nonpartisan elections challenge voters to be more discerning with their ballots — voting for the person, not the party. Instead of just searching for the “R” or “D,” voters have to do some homework and learn about the people seeking their support, and possibly even consider ideas they wouldn’t otherwise be presented with.

While not as convenient, this process can foster a more diverse governmental body and (gasp) cooperation between elected officials from different parties. That’s according to a report from the National League of Cities, which also notes that political parties are irrelevant to providing city services. As the saying goes, there is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole.

This healthy exchange of ideas sans political identity was on display at two online candidate forums hosted by the Daily Inter Lake last week. It was refreshing to see candidates from Whitefish and Kalispell discuss the issues and challenges facing their communities without the shroud of party affiliation. It’s very likely a Democrat found themselves nodding along with a Republican’s ideas for the housing crunch, or a Republican agreeing with a Democrat’s plans to improve traffic and parking.

While party leaders would like to have a hand in stacking our councils and school boards, the blind judgment voters are offered in nonpartisan elections often proves to be favorable for the entire community and is worth keeping intact.

The valley is changing quickly and many important decisions are on the horizon. Study up and make your voice heard.

If you missed our online candidate forums, you can find the recordings online at the Whitefish Pilot and Daily Inter Lake. Candidate profiles are also posted online at dailyinterlake.com/news/local-elections/

Absentee and mail-in ballots for the Nov. 2 election have already been mailed. Kalispell voters who wish to vote in person can do so at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Poll hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.