Monday, August 27, 2012

In many Sacramento County elections, there's little or no interest, so no contest - Sacramento Bee

Maybe it is a case of too little interest. Or too little time. Or perhaps constituents love the work incumbents are doing.

Whatever the reasons, approximately 56 local contests won't be on the ballot in November in Sacramento County, either because incumbents or candidates have no challengers â€" or because there are no eligible candidates.

That's more than all the local contests that will go before voters in the general election in Sacramento County.

In most cases where voters don't choose, candidates will be appointed in lieu of election.

"For all intents and purposes, they are elected. And they serve a (full) term," said Ryan Ronco, assistant registrar for Placer County, where 62 contests are likely to require appointments.

In El Dorado County, more than two dozen contests won't make the November election ballots. In Yolo County, the number is six.

Is this the evolution of democracy, one in which apathy, economic stress or too little time trumps public service? Turns out, according to elections officials, a combination of factors are at work.

"I do think there are some contests out there where there is a lot of work for not a lot of recognition," said Brad Buyse, Sacramento County's campaign services manager.

Placer County's Ronco figures the brutal budgetary times likely play a role.

"It could be that times are difficult and it might be easier to serve as a board member in a district when there is money for programs," Ronco said.

For candidates willing to step up, imagine the surprise of finding no campaigning is needed. "I was a little bit surprised," said Matthew Giblin, a parent who decided to run for one of two Galt Joint Union Elementary School District seats. "I was expecting a few people to put in for it."

Actually, one other candidate entered the race. But with two available seats, there still will be no contest. Instead, Giblin and incumbent John Gordon will be sworn into office outright.

Bill Schultz, El Dorado County registrar of voters, said running for office requires having an interest in what happens at the agency and the time to carry out the duties of board members.

"This is one of those things where you've got to be active in your community, you've got to step forward and try to help," he said.

The Sierra Joint Community College District, which covers portions of multiple counties, has two seats voters won't see on the ballot.

Bill Halldin was appointed as trustee in July 2011 to finish the term of an incumbent who resigned. A condition of the appointment was that Halldin seek re-election.

Easier said than done.

Halldin took the edict seriously, connecting with constituents in his district and, as he put it, "being an ambassador for the college." He filed the paperwork. Now, because no one else is running in Area 4, Halldin is as good as elected.

The vast majority of contests that won't be on the ballot involve local school or education boards, fire districts and small special districts. Many of the posts require hard work in an unsung role.

And sometimes a district's small service area reduces the likelihood that voters will seek public office.

"In our case, four of the six newly created small trustee areas for school districts â€" in Esparto and Winters â€" represent a relatively small population," said Tom Stanionis, chief of staff for the Yolo County clerk-recorder.

Even some high-profile contests will not be on the ballot.

Two seats for the Los Rios Community College District board of trustees won't go before voters because incumbents Ruth Scribner and Pam Haynes are unopposed.

In the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, incumbents in Wards 1 and 2 face no challengers. So no November voting for their constituents.

The same is true in Districts 2, 5, 6 and 8 of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. The large fire agency's District 4, newly formed through redistricting, has zero candidates. So a District 4 board member must be chosen outside the election process.

Other contests not on the ballot include the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, which has incumbents running unopposed for two seats.

The same is true for the Sacramento City Unified School District, where incumbents in Areas 4 and 5 are seeking re-election, unopposed.

Of course, there are exceptions to the no-contest rule.

Elk Grove Mayor Jim Cooper and Councilman Steve Detrick filed for re-election to their City Council seats and are unopposed. However, Sacramento County's Buyse said those races will be included because a citywide contest is on the ballot â€" the first direct election of mayor in Elk Grove.

Six candidates, including two council members, are seeking that post.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073.

• Read more articles by Loretta Kalb

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