I had an interesting discussion this week regarding local elections in Merrimack. A candidate whom I will not name brought up the realization that people would rather vote for someone they know instead of someone with the skills necessary to do the job.
Admittedly when it comes to politics skills is subjective since we all clearly disagree on political directions from time to time. That aside, local politics are clearly a different animal then state and federal politics.
In a state or federal election you have parties and it's far easier to say you are a "republican" or "democrat" and vote for the person with the R or D next to their name without having to really think too much about it. Likewise we assume that if we agree with democrats or republicans that the person running with the same letter by their name at least agrees with our views more then other person with the other letter. In most cases that's a fair assumption.
In local politics however you don't have the R or D to make it easy on those who don't want to do the homework. Not to mention most people don't even pay attention to local meetings and what's going on behind the scenes. It isn't until a major issue that comes up that effects everyone in town that people wake up and pay attention.
That leaves most voters in the dark about who to vote for and why. Sure we have candidates nights or bios written up in local papers but what do those really tell us? Even candidates who sat on boards during double digit budget increases will state how they are the tax payers best friend and tell you everything they think you want to hear. You'll even see candidates stand up in town meetings and make great speeches about one issue or another or claim responsibility for all that's great in the town.
Problem is none of that tells you who these people really are and where they'll stand once the doors close and they are in meetings that most people ignore.
Most voters don't read the minutes or watch the meetings.
The candidate I was discussing this with was right, most people don't vote for the person with the best skills (as subjective as that is) or who actually fits their political views. Instead in local elections people vote for the guy they've known in town for 20 years or their next doors neighbors friend from bowling night since they assure them that the person is a great guy.
Worst yet they vote for the people who's names they see year after year, mostly because they continually run for every office they can or put their names down at the last minute for positions that are uncontested.
Heck, I even know someone in Merrimack who voted for a woman simply because he thought she was the most attractive person in the race.
I don't know if this will ever change.
This is why so many people just give up when it comes to local elections, why vote when your vote will be cancelled out by someone like one of those I mentioned?
It is also why it is so important to be informed and to put out facts when you can. Get involved in blogging sites like this one. Write letters to the editor. Talk to people about local issues. But most importantly stick to facts.
Don't over sensationalize that candidate X will blow all your life savings or that candidate Y is the only one that will stop the out of control spending. You need to show that candidate X supported a specific issue or candidate Y voted against a specific issue and explain the impact of those issues on the local community. Only then will people be informed.