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Editorial: Avoid party endorsements in nonpartisan races

When voters walk into polls for municipal election, they won’t see an “R” or “D” next to candidates names.

And that’s a good thing. There’s no Republican or Democratic way to ensure trash services operate, streets are in good shape and citizen concerns are answered in a timely manner.

It’s unfortunate, however, that political parties choose to endorse candidates in local, nonpartisan races. Political party endorsements in nonpartisan races should be avoided now and in the future because their most significant benefit to the voting populace is signaling whether the candidate is on the right “team.”

Consider, for example, that some candidates don’t want to be endorsed — something Rowan County Democratic Party Chair Geoffrey Hoy hinted at in a letter to the editor before the 2017 elections.

“Other candidates, who are also Democrats, did not request endorsement out of respect for the nonpartisan nature of the election,” Hoy wrote in announcing the party’s endorsements.

In the hyper-partisan environment in which we live, someone might see a Democratic or Republican endorsement and decide to give someone else their vote. If Rowan Democrats were to endorse a candidate in Landis, which chose President Donald Trump in 2016 with 77% of the vote, it would surely be detrimental to that person in election night returns.

And, while it doesn’t appear to be an issue this year, it’s easy to imagine a situation in the future where more Democrats or Republicans run for office than seats available in a nonpartisan race.

The Rowan Republican Party saw that happen in 2016’s school board race, which is also nonpartisan. The Rowan GOP in 2016 endorsed three GOP incumbents and left out three GOP challengers. In one case, Chairman Josh Wagner’s only opponent, Michael Julian, was a Republican.

“Why continue to drive a wedge in between people by endorsing one candidate over the other?” Julian told the Post at the time.

The true test for parties should be whether the endorsement helps propel unknown challengers into office. Incumbents like Mayor Al Heggins, who received Democrats’ endorsement in 2017, won’t need their endorsement this year to secure a spot on council. She’s got name recognition and a campaign full of volunteers to make the case to their neighbors and friends — a much more compelling case than a flyer.

Even when challengers benefit, parties are simply injecting partisanship into a race where there should be none. There are already too many areas of modern American life that have been infiltrated by the tribalism of partisan politics.

Maybe it’s time to look for areas where partisanship isn’t needed? Rowan County’s 2019 municipal elections seems like a good place to start.

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