Nancy Leifer and Nancy Maxson, Co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Missoula
Last week in this column we thanked the many voters and volunteers who helped get out the vote and made this election a success. We also want to thank all the county elections workers who kept voters and votes safe and secure during this unprecedented election.
In this column we want to thank all people who ran for office: our candidates. In every election there are winners and losers. The winners deserve our congratulations, but both the winners and loser deserve our gratitude. Our representative democracy can’t function if citizens are not willing to serve as elected public officials. All the candidates in the last election were willing to make personal sacrifices in order to serve their fellow citizens and improve their communities. Our nation, state, communities and tribes need candidates willing to accept the responsibility of governing in our name.
That means candidates must be willing to run for office and risk losing. American culture celebrates winners and success and views losing as a personal failing. People who enter a race or competition when they know they might not win are thought foolish. Why run if you know you might not win? These day elections can get nasty. Candidates must endure verbal assaults on their reputations, with name calling and mudslinging rampant
The “prize” for wining an election is a low-paying public position that requires you to always be accessible to your constituents. Montana legislators must disrupt their work and families and temporarily uproot themselves for four months every two years for the legislative session. Many county commissioners or city counselors are considered part-time and must keep their regular jobs to pay their bills.
All the more reason we need to be grateful to all those candidates who are willing to serve. We need to applaud them for their dedication to their communities and our democracy. In a year where we have cheered as heroes our medical teams, first responders and frontline workers, we need to remember candidates are heroes, too.
Finding citizens willing to run for office and then serve is increasingly difficult. Over one-third of Montana’s legislative districts (58 of 100 House and Senate districts) had only one major-party candidate run for office in 2020. That means 58 candidates basically ran unopposed. According to the Secretary of States’ website, 42 Montana House and Senate Districts have only a Republican candidate on the ballot and 16 Montana Legislative districts have only a Democrat candidate on the ballot. A few of both of those groups also had third-party Libertarian candidates running.
When voters have only one choice on the ballot, they have no choice. Their vote affirms the candidate and that’s candidate’s ideology, prejudices and perspective.
Candidates who are elected and were unopposed can ignore their constituents. No one challenged them during the election, so they don’t have to account for their legislative decisions to the voters back home. They have no need to compromise or negotiate on bills with fellow legislators and can obstruct and delay the process without fearing voter reprisal. If they have extreme views on issues, they can remain inflexible. This hurts our democracy and makes it harder for our decision makers to get things done.
For all of these reasons, we say thank you to all those who ran for office, those who won and those who did not. Thank you for giving us a choice, for helping make our democracy work.
Nancy Maxson and Nancy Leifer are Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters Missoula.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org