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Editorial: More diverse Salisbury City Council starts with candidates

If Salisbury voters want a governing body that adequately represents our diverse community, one important solution is that council candidates reflect the city’s demographics.

In 17 days, we’ll be back in election season. This time, it’s municipal elections. Filing opens at noon on July 7 and closes July 21 at noon. Voters from Rockwell to Cleveland will elect the next governing bodies of their municipalities.

As we inch closer to those contests, it’s natural to wonder who will run. We already have some idea of the list of candidates in Salisbury, but won’t know a full picture until filing closes. And if Salisbury residents want a council that best reflects local interests, there are two simple solutions.

The first, and most important, is that the field of city council candidates closely reflects the people who live in Salisbury. In 2016, more so than any other recent election, the field of candidates came close to Salisbury’s demographics, but a majority of the field still consisted of white males.

To be clear, the makeup of the 2015 field of candidates was not identical to Salisbury’s demographics, but it was better than the two prior elections, when an even larger portion of the candidates were white and male.

If the Salisbury City Council were to closely resemble the demographics of the city, the field of candidates would be as follows: 49 percent white, not including those who are Hispanic or Latino; 38 percent black or African American; 11 percent Hispanic or Latino; 2 percent who are two or more races and 2 percent Asian. A slight majority of the candidates would also be women.

But candidates alone would not ensure a council represents the interests of Salisbury voters. Like evey other election, voter turnout is critical.

In 2015, for example, roughly 16 percent of eligible Salisbury voters cast ballots in the city council race. That was better than the turnout among all council races in the county, but a far cry from acceptable. The more diverse precincts —East Ward and South Ward — saw turnout rates lower than the city’s average. West Ward 3 —which contains the West End community — saw the worst turnout rate among precincts with more than 1,000 voters.

Perhaps turnout rates across Salisbury would be higher if candidates reflected the diversity of the city, and if candidates spoke about issues relevant to all voters. What matters to the West Square area may not be as important in the West End.

As in any political race, recruiting good candidates to run for office may be difficult in Salisbury. Not all candidates are fit to hold elected office, but in 2017 we should strive for a council that reflects the diverse interests and needs of Salisbury’s residents. Acheiving that goal starts with a diverse field of candidates.

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